Well, I'm a bit behind here, having spent most of last week in New York on (mostly) business, but, having given the men their due, let's look at this season's fairer sex...
Priscilla Presley: Credit to her for being as nimble, elegant, and graceful as she is, and not just because of her age. Unfortunately, all those close-ups reveal what appears to be a bit too much 'work' done; when she was being complimented by the judges, she was either too nervous to smile or physically unable to smile. Nevertheless, a pleasant surprise, and far from your typical 'senior citizen'.
Monica Seles: Very pleasant, and well-intentioned, but her tomboy nature shows up on the dance floor in a somewhat unflattering way. I suspect she'll be the first to go among the ladies.
Marlee Matlin: Wow! I think it's great to give an actress like this such a challenge, and I think it's even better to see what a great dancer she is! Also, best line of the show thus far: "I'm profoundly deaf--but I sleep great!" Definitely has what it takes to last.
Shannon Elizabeth: Supermodel looks plus goofball personality? Surprisingly graceful and energetic, and she gets bonus points for Derek's excellent choreography.
Marissa Jaret Winokur: Now, admittedly, she's got three strikes against her: height, width, and Broadway training (which is quite a bit different from ballroom training). Bonus points for impossible-to-contain enthusiasm, but I'm not sure she'll last.
Kristy Yamaguchi: The Dark Horse! Now, you'd expect great upper body control from a skater, but she managed to kick ass on both the foxtrot and the let-loose mambo. Should make it to the final three...
Well, I suppose one upside to the writers' strike was the prompt return of Dancing With The Stars. I will confess, however, that, after seeing the lineup, I wasn't terribly excited. Tonight, we got a look at the men; the women will be on tomorrow, but, with my imminent trip to the Big Apple for the New York Auto Show, I may not get a chance to write about it until next week. Meanwhile, let's take a look at the boys...
Penn Jillette. No. Really? The good news, such as it is, is that Jillette (or, as he's referred to himself, 'Sasquatch') understands his limitations. It's unfortunate that his partner, Kim (the lovely Australian)--who's had to deal with Jerry Springer in the past--is stuck with a yet another entertainer ill-suited to this show.
Jason Taylor. I'm surprised no one referenced Emmett Smith's win a couple of seasons back--and, while Taylor is no Emmett Smith, he is surprisingly humble and light on his feet. His energy level needs a bit of work, but there is a lot of potential there, and the same folks who voted for Smith may follow him as well.
Cristian de la Fuente. Hunky Latin actor? Who's also a lieutenant in the Chilean Air Force? With perfect teeth like that? And partnered with former champ Cheryl Burke? A tough act to beat, on paper. A teensy bit cocky--which might cost him votes--and he needs to flash that smile more often.
Adam Carolla. Well, after two wins in a row, I suppose it's a given that Julianne gets a problem child. Now, not being an MTV watcher, I'm not overly familiar with Carolla, but the first words out of his mouth--"Dancing With The Stars sounds humiliating, so I think I should do it."--seem to guarantee his early dismissal. On the dance floor, he's Penn Jillette without the showmanship. Oh--and, good gods, who foxtrots to "Mellow Yellow"?
Mario. Did somebody say "breakout"? It's easy to conjure up a stereotype of a young R&B star these days--spoiled, rude, cocky--but Mario is none of those. And, holy f**k, he can move. Now, granted, cha-cha is a good place for him to start, and we'll have to see how well he does in the more disciplined dances, but he's my nod for the leader among the guys (and the scores support it). Does his demographic watch this show? We'll find out.
Steve Guttenberg. Likely to last longer than Jillette and Carolla--but barely. Lots of enthusiasm, but that's about it.
"Frankfurt Light?" you ask. Well, technically it was the Geneva Motor Show, but, for all intents and purposes, it was a pint-size version of the sprawling, biennial Frankfurt Motor Show. Why?
The major (and minor) luxury players seem to have forgotten that Switzerland is the land of expensive chocolates, swanky watches, and secret bank accounts. In other words, an ideal setting to unveil a new luxury vehicle, either concept or production. But all we saw were facelifts, new bodystyles, and a smattering of new tech. The one exception was Infiniti, who chose Geneva not only to launch their brand in Europe but to unveil the second generation FX. The FX--a nice update to a successful formula, now with more curves and power--joins the G and EX later this year, and all three will be getting a nice V6 turbodiesel in a couple of years.
What was there in place of luxury? Green--as green as Frankfurt, if not more so. Green materials, green powertrains, green manufacturing--you name it. Although it's worth noting that, between Mercedes' Bluetec, VW's Bluemotion, Peugeot's Blue Lion, and Hyundai's plain old 'blue' brands, blue is the new green.
So, as far as the rest of the show...
Memo to Lancia: showing a brand new car in black, on a black carpet, surrounded by a black floor, in a dimly lit stand, is the not the best way to get people to photograph your car. To their credit, the new Delta is a nice piece of work--handsome, well proportioned, and distinctive. Just what the ailing Lancia brand needs.
Memo to BMW: You are a luxury brand. You build ultimate driving machines. But a stand full of refrigerator-white cars and SUVs with big ugly 'Efficient Dynamics' decals plastered on the side? That's WalMart, not Neiman-Marcus. Get it together.
In the flesh, Tata's Nano minicar--just two inches longer than my own classic Mini--is a curious beast. It bears a passing resemblance to the Cyclops minicar written up--as a satire--in Road & Track magazine years ago. Geneva saw a 'full Cleveland' Nano, complete with aluminum wheels (12"--just like my car!), leather seating, and plenty of brightwork inside and out. Given the $2500 base price for the stripper, I'm guessing the Nano Deluxe prices out around $5000.
Toyota has a small iQ! Sorry--had to get that out of the way. No, they're not stupid (well, not all the time), but they do have a new minicar. Ironically named iQ (it competes against the Smart--get it?) is the production version of the concept shown at Frankfurt. To their credit, it's rather avant-garde for Toyota--perhaps to the point where it might not comfortably fit in a showroom alongside Yaris, RAV4, and Avensis. It's quite a clever little piece of engineering, and they've managed to squeeze out quite a bit of space in a small package.
Can twenty-first-century technology work with 'olde worlde' craftsmanship? The question posed by the Morgan LIFECar. Imagine a classic Morgan interpreted by a Japanese manga artist--and then drop a hydrogen fuel cell under the hood and put an electric motor at each wheel.
And now, with Easter just around the corner, I'm off to the Big Apple this week. Check back here soon for my take on the last major show of the season...