“It feels fantastic to be back,” said Jayne Torvill as Dancing on Ice returned to ITV. “But kind of surreal – here we are again…”
Surreal was certainly how it felt hearing that ‘da da daah’ music as a new cast of skating stars (crikey, it’s been a while since I’ve typed that phrase) nervously grinned their way around the ice on Sunday night.
It was like waking from a coma, being instantly plonked back onto the sofa in the late noughties as if the past four years since the show was cancelled hadn’t happened.
The grainy footage of Torvill and Dean’s Bolero was wheeled out for the umpteenth time, Phillip Schofield had to verbally restrain Jason Gardiner again and Holly Willoughby was wearing a dress that Mail Online could dissect and write an entire article about.
But as with all of us, having some time off and enjoying a big rest has actually done Dancing on Ice the world of good. It might have felt almost uncomfortably familiar, but the show retains the fun, entertainment and genuine jeopardy (would – could – someone lose a finger?) that originally made it such a hit.
Presenters Holly and Phil are again the ideal hosts, the judging panel has the right mix and between them the skating celebrities have the requisite varying abilities – from the very impressive (Perri Shakes-Drayton, Jake Quickenden) to the underdogs (Candice Brown, Kem Cetinay).
But with bigger and better technology (and budgets) the new purpose-built studio is a vast improvement on the previous set. The large ice rink complimented by an LED screen brings the routines to life better than before yet still pays homage to the original with what I’m christening The Todd Tunnel through which the skaters enter the ring.
The opening show was also gloriously unashamedly camp, with a smattering of innuendos about buns and soggy bottoms, a bit of Club Tropicana and even the unexpected sight of Phillip Schofield riding one of those heavy duty tractor-style machines, used for smoothing ice, out of the studio and down the tunnel for basically no reason whatsoever.
That’s not to say Dancing on Ice is without its issues. Commentator Matt Chapman might be an accomplished in the world of horse racing, but not only was his lack of knowledge about ice skating palpable, his OTT tone and delivery felt out of kilter with the rest of the show.
And having the 12 celebrities split across two weeks also meant that there was a yawning chasm of two hours of live TV to fill with just six skaters. That’s a ludicrous hit rate of three performances per hour which was spreading them more thinly than Jason Gardiner’s hair before he had the transplant.
The training rink out the back was also a bit strange; the skaters-in-waiting aimlessly orbiting like aircraft placed in a holding pattern, or a tank of lobsters whiling away time before being yanked out and plonked in a pot.
Although the thought of being boiled alive would arguably have been a less painful prospect than facing Jason Gardiner on the ice panel, but the notorious Mr Nasty was actually in sanguine mode as he returned to the show.
Although some bitchy one-liners still reared their ugly heads (“were you a waiter or a gigolo?” he asked Antony Cotton), Jason had generally been toned down. He’s pushed things too far in the past, but in the first episode struck the right tone – a bit spiky, but not too mean or personal.
Ashley Banjo, meanwhile, was confident and comfortable in the critics’ chair – perhaps unsurprising as he’s already been a TV judge on Sky1’s Got To Dance and ITV’s Dance Dance Dance. Interestingly, it was Christopher Dean and particularly Jayne Torvill who seemed and sounded the most uncertain.
Although the Olympic legends’ ice skating knowledge is second to none, previously the pair were on the programme in a coaching capacity. They haven’t had to vocalise positive and negative feedback in quite this manner before and they appeared nervous and strangely unsure of what to say.
But people need time to feel comfortable in new jobs and win over viewers (Darcey Bussell hardly got a glowing reception when she started on Strictly Come Dancing), so although they were criticised by some viewers they need to be given a chance to bed in and find their feet.
With the decision to bring back Dancing on Ice, it’s obvious that ITV have run out of ideas. They’re falling back on a tried and tested TV show format because it’s cheap, easy and they can’t be bothered to think up a new reality programme.
And yet I don’t care. It’s cheesy, it’s a bit naff and it has Kem from Love Island in it – but despite all of this, Dancing on Ice’s return was actually rather brilliant.
Dancing on Ice continues Sundays on ITV