So here we are, five episodes into the adventures of Abby Lee Miller and her flunky bunch, and I finally feel completely safe putting this out there.
No, not that I think that if any other adult authority figure — say the real live school teachers whose time and efforts Miller thinks so little of — would subject pre-adolescent children to the kind of verbal firepower and exhaustive scheduling that she does, social services or someone might come a’runnin’. Abby says she’s just trying to emancipate these little girls from their mothers’ lack of trust and belief in their talent, even though the show would have us believe that she has nothing to offer in the kind of unconditional support children require, leaving them clinging to one another like quaking, spandex-clad leaves while the adults wage verbal war against them and each other.
Noooo, not that I think — with her china doll face, willow-wisp body and elegant form (not to mention the national title of which we’ve heard mention oh-so-briefly) — that it’s Chloe who would be the pet project of any dance studio. Including Abby Lee’s. Despite the presence of inarguably talented but jack-rabbit-twitchy Maddie.
No, not even that I think that crazy-pants Cathy From Canton is a plant — a longtime colleague of Abby Lee’s, as she kindly reminded the other mothers in Episode 4, whom AL and whomever cast this thing thought would make an excellent fairy-dusted foil for our brash braying dance mistress whose name is on the door.
This: I think Dance Moms is scripted as hell. Start to finish.
And thus, I think all that other stuff up there, too.
Maybe not scripted word-for-word (except for that dead-eyed apology Christi offered Abby in the donut shop, for which she was rewarded with a clearly non-legally binding contract/restraining order thingie in a folder). But definitely in a “in this episode, Maddie gets two solos, Holly gets reviled for deigning to have a life outside of dance, Christi and Kelly find another way to go drinking on dance company time, and for some fresh drama, Brooke takes a giant sucker stick up the nose. Next week, pretty much same stuff” kind of way.
Of course I suspected this pretty much from episode one, and so did you. But I bet that neither of us were completely sure if that was truly the case, or if Lifetime just scared up a half-dozen people with the worst case camera-itis since the invention of reality TV, until somewhere in the last few episodes.
For me it was officially this one, when I realized I recognized everyone not as a Pittsburghian reality-TV one-off, but as a television character with a role they expertly play. To wit:
• Every kid: cry about something. Every mother to their daughter: “Quit crying.” Abby Lee: “Children should only cry when their arm is broken and it’s hanging off or someone dies.”
• Kelly and Melissa take to the “Abby-ordered”, Cathy-choreographed Mom Dance like ducks hoping to shuffle-tap out from the shadows of the daughter ducks through whom they are living vicariously.
• Holly participates in Mom Dance practice long enough to display a wicked sense of rhythm and understanding of dance, then bows out because she sort of has to attend her doctorate graduation on performance day.
• Cathy thinks this is clearly evidence that Holly is not dedicated to dance. Nor to the group of dance moms Cathy had just finished informing that she wants no part of, unless she does, but mostly not. Nor to being present to watch her go completely off the love-child-of-Edith-Bunker-and-Patti-Lupone rails onstage during the company’s annual dance gala, reducing the other mothers to arm-waving, hippity-hopping props.
• Melissa further cements my suspicion that school was not a happy experience for her by further aligning herself with the Mean Girls (Cathy and Abby) instead of the Party Girls (Christi and Kelly) — even though none of them honestly like her. Plus she offered up this little nugget when Abby Lee remarked about the ineptitude of the children’s academic teachers: “She always says dance needs to come before school. Our kids don’t even go to school. They miss school all the time for dance.”
Oh. Well then. In that case, they better be as excited as their mothers over this episode’s main outside dramatic development — the arrival of Cesar Rocha, a good-natured representative from honest-to-goodness New York casting agency Telsey and Company, in their own little humble studio. Everyone’s big break has arrived and he’s wearin’ red pants and a mohawk!
Or maybe not.
Whether you saw the episode or didn’t, Cesar’s participation can basically be boiled down to this: he is very kind and encouraging, which did zero to assuage the girls’ Abby-shredded nerves; he appeared to avoid Abby like the plague; and, in the end — and in keeping with our story line — he gleefully informed Maddie that she’s a star and invited her to drop in anytime to his NYC office, right smack in front of the other sad-eyed little girls and their seething mothers. Especially Christi.
One might have expected Cathy to have more to say about this, but I’ve pretty much determined that Cathy is as aware as we are that her sweet little raven-haired Vivi-Anne is not destined for fame on the dance stage or possibly anywhere else. For now, Cathy has landed herself a TV show just a hundred miles from home that allows her to go out and wreak havoc on a rival dance studio, befuddle a crop of other mothers (mostly with her ability to be the only person who can yank Abby’s chain like a hyperactive toddler and get mirth instead of murder in return), and inform an awestruck Melissa and a innocent-bystander boutique owner that, “my Bunco friends call me the purse whore” with a sort of stage-whisper boastfulness better suited to confessing that she once entertained every member of Van Halen on a diner table.
So now that I’ve accepted this new reality in this new reality show, I feel equally secure in tossing this prediction: Despite the fact that she has done nothing but dance joyfully, express her love for her peers and look splendid in an inappropriate pile of brown eye-shadow — Maddie is about to get her comeuppance at the hands of Chloe.
I say this for several reasons. One, because that would make for an excellent, if not predictable, dramatic twist. Two, because if this were real live real life and this studio was such a dead-end of the dance-career line for Chloe, Christi would have made good on her multiple threats to pull the little blond warhorse from the studio by now. And finally, Chloe is clearly lovely and talented — and remarkably well-balanced for a child in her position — so the notion that the entire series will be about her playing second fiddle to Maddie makes zero sense.
And if we’re to believe that this character called Abby Lee is truly is the Machiavelli of the Mambo that we’ve been led — truthfully or otherwise — to believe, it would be her ultimate Abbyism to knock Miss Maddie to the bottom of her infamous blackboard pyramid.
But what I want to know most is this: Why hasn’t a single mom, nor Miss Abby, offered up a public defense to a universally unflattering portrayal? I suspect the real entertainment may begin when the curtains come down on Dance Moms.