It's baaaack! Yes, "Dancing with the Stars" returns, though in condensed form, and with a whole new mess of celebrities! Some of whom can actually dance! Though there won't be eliminations this week, when those start they'll be jammed into the performance episodes, so don't get too comfortable with tonight's casual, languorous pacing. Actually, I'm okay with that going away, actually. After a certain point, this feels less like a show about dancing and more like a show about talking about dancing.

In other news, Tom and Brooke will be wandering around a lot more than usual and, yes, trying to act casual. Or something. It's supposed to be a fabulous new update to the show, but sometimes these kinds of nominal upgrades feel a bit like moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic. In any case, there will be dancing tonight, and possibly tears (Valerie Harper in the house!). Bring it on!

Brant & Peta

The Background: It's a cha cha cha! And a sexy one. I foresee a loyal female voter block for Brant, if he doesn't already have one from "Pretty Little Liars."

The Dance: Not a bad start to the show, granted. He's definitely got charisma.

The Judges:  And… my Slingbox cut out. So, I'll fill this in later. 

The Scores: Len: 7  Bruno: 8  Carrie Ann: 7

Early Verdict: He's cute, he seems charming, and that's enough to keep him around for a while. 

 

Leah & Tony

The Background: She's wacky and she wants to lose weight. At least she's honest. Tony is thrilled to have a wacky partner, which may or may not be true. 

The Dance: This is good, right? Except there's a little disco moment, which I have to assume was a missed move. Or maybe not. It might just be an opportunity for her to shake her groove thing. In week one 

The Judges: Bruno can't believe she's never done this before! He likes the Miley Cyrus moment and wants tweaking next week. Carrie Ann thinks she's sass and class. She wants more arm extension. Len thought it was clean and precise.

The Scores: Carrie Ann: 7 Len: 7 Bruno: 7 

Early Verdict: This is better than I expected, and she was smart to actually come out and say she's in it to lose weight. Honesty will take you far on "DWTS." 

Hey, Jennifer Lopez is in the audience! Nothing to add here. She's just in the audience. Unfortunately, though Brooke and Tom are free to roam around the place, they do not appear free to ask J-Lo how she's doing or whether or not they should buy a Fiat. 

 

Corbin & Karina

The Background: Does he have a leg up because he's an actual dancer and stuff? Nah! Okay, maybe with contemporary, but that's it! Karina is so excited, because Corbin is just as crazy as she is! 

The Dance: This is, as expected, very well-executed. Ringer!

The Judges: Karina's hands are shaking -- she's never done contemporary on the show before! Carrie Ann thought it was beautiful and passionate. Len thinks the standard has been fantastic, and this is no exception. Bruno thinks he can cut the mustard. 

The Scores: Carrie Ann: 8 Len: 8 Bruno: 8

Early Verdict: Oh, come on. Next season he could be one of the pros if he works at it. 

 

Time for a troupe dance to "Blurred Lines." Haven't heard this song at all this summer! What a rare, special treat! 

Tom takes advantage of his roaming option and has a conversation with Valerie Harper. She's so inspirational. Her knee is killing her! And so is cancer! But she's smiling! Tom looks like he wants to pray at Valerie's feet, which is fine, but really, let the woman enjoy the dancing thing without constantly being reminded she's lucky to be alive. 

Jack & Cheryl

The Background: His sister is a better dancer than he is, but he's not going to count himself short. And he's sweating. He has MS, but he isn't letting it slow him down. He might not always be able to do this show, so he's doing it now while he can. Jack, come on, think positive! Plan on coming back for an All Star season!

The Dance: Cheryl's right -- he is light on his feet! This is much better than I expected, given his sweatiness and general discouragement. He may actually do pretty well if everyone has fond memories of "The Osbournes." 

The Judges: Len thinks Jack can dance and he'll give Kelly a run for her money. Bruno thought it was joyful and playful, but he needs to watch his turns. Carrie Ann is blown away. 

The Scores: Carrie Ann: 8 Len: 8 Bruno: 7

Early Verdict: He's not bad, but the bar is looking awfully high. He hasn't been in the spotlight for a few years (the MS diagnosis aside) because he's been working mostly behind the scenes as a producer, so that might hurt him -- though we can expect Kelly and Sharon to stump for him plenty.

Look, there's Jennifer Lopez! Again! And Sharon Osbourne is crying watching her little boy on the dance floor. Poor bunny! 

 

Amber & Derek

The Background: Ballroom dancing is a dream deferred for Amber. Her family could only afford either dance lessons or singing lessons, so she got singing lessons. Yup, that was the right choice. Anyway, she'll be doing a cha cha cha with Derek. This one's for the fat girls! No, wait, that's what Camryn Manheim said at the Emmys all those years ago. But, same idea. 

The Dance: Sassy! But there's not a lot of moving around the dance floor. It's a good dance, but it's pretty stationary -- which has more to do with Derek's choreography than anything, though I suspect he had good reason to try to keep her in one spot. 

The Judges: Bruno tells Amber she's the tigress of season 17. Carrie Ann bows to her. Len needs a medic, as he's "perspirating." Really? This is a good routine, but I think the judges are getting carried away. 

The Scores: Carrie Ann: 9 Len: 9 Bruno: 9. Wow. Really not seeing this, judges. 

Early Verdict: Apparently the judges love Amber, though I'm not sure why. Is there a "Glee"/"Dancing with the Stars" crossover I don't know about?

 

Elizabeth & Val

The Background: He learned English watching her! She's a new mom and this will help her balance all of her new roles. Or something. For someone best known for "Showgirls" and "Saved by the Bell," Elizabeth Berkley does not seem to have much of  a sense of humor about herself. 

The Dance: Ringer! She may not be much fun, but she's a very, very good dancer. 

The Judges: Carrie Ann thought she was an angel! Len thought it was lovely to watch. Bruno thinks the original showgirl is back. I love how Bruno and Carrie Ann mention "Showgirls" and Elizabeth doesn't seem overly eager to remind everyone about that movie. 

The Scores: Carrie Ann: 8 Len: 8 Bruno: 8 Seriously? That was much better than Amber's performance. And then, we watch a clip in which Val reveals he liked "the other one" on "Saved by the Bell." 

Early Verdict: I am getting the impression Elizabeth is not well-liked on this show, and though I think she'll go far I'm not sure she's likable enough to make it to the very end. 

 

Bill N. & Tyna

The Background: They come up with a name for their team -- they're Hot Knowledge! That's so cute. Bill discusses sexual tension with Tyna, and she smiles uncomfortably. Loosen up, Tyna, he's just joking with you! She clearly didn't grow up with "Bill Nye the Science Guy." Anyway, they're going to cha cha. 

The Dance: It's "Weird Science." Well picked! Next week, I expect Thomas Dolby. Well, there's an Andy Dick aspect to this, but he's fun. Bad, kinda awkward, but fun. And the audience loves them!

The Judges: Len thought it was like being waxed -- painful while it happened and felt great when it was over. Bruno thinks this formula won't get him a Nobel Prize. It didn't gel. Carrie Ann thinks he's the kind of contestant who makes this the show it is. Yes, he needs to work on his footwork, but he was fun and he's the heart of the show. Agreed!

The Scores: Carrie Ann: 5 Len: 4 Bruno: 5

Early Verdict: I would say he won't last long, but given how the crowd went nuts rooting for him I'm not counting on him going home first despite his lousy scores. 

 

Keyshawn & Sharna

The Background: The gang at ESPN expects him back in two weeks. Yeah, he's a Super Bowl champion and the only athlete this season. He's not going home in two weeks unless he pulls a hamstring. 

The Dance: A little stiff at first, but once he loosens up, really pretty good. 

The Judges: Bruno thinks it's like having the Empire State building be a Rockette. He has to work on his timing, because he has the moves. Carrie Ann thinks he started stiff but loosened up. Len thinks his attitude is terrific but his technique needs work. 

The Scores: Carrie Ann: 6 Len: 5 Bruno: 6

Early Verdict: He needs to loosen up a lot more to measure up to the other athletes we've seen on this show, but it could happen.

 

Brooke wants us to know everyone's talking about Bill Nye on Facebook. And Christina Milian just tweeted that she loves J-Lo! How fitting that "The Voice" social media correspondent is tweeting! How lovely. Maybe she can get a job on this show, too, because I can never get enough social media reportage, can you? 

 

Christina & Mark

The Background: She's never danced with a partner before! She'll be doing contemporary. Oops, she's crying. She wants to overachieve so badly! 

The Dance: She's making contemporary look more leaden than I'd like, but okay. Some of her technique is good, if not for the "King Kong attacking the city" thing she's trying out. 

The Judges: Carrie Ann thinks she's better than she thinks she is. She didn't connect with the audience. Len thinks the dance suited her. But he wants her to be less careful. Bruno loved the torment.

The Scores: Carrie Ann: 7 Len: 7 Bruno: 8

Early Verdict: She may be determined enough to wow us, but she's going to have to work pretty darn hard to emerge from the middle of the pack. 

Tom and Brooke are mixing and mingling on the floor. Yeah, this is not what I'd call a big, exciting change to the format, but at least they look happy. 

 

Bill E. & Emma

The Background: Oh, no, the funny guy. Each season we have a funny guy, and each season that means silly schtick and props. He would love to be the rednecks' dancing king. He's doing the foxtrot, and I fear that this will involve a cape or camo or possibly a rifle.

The Dance: Hey, this is not awful. He actually is making an effort and isn't riding a unicycle or some such silliness. His arms aren't terrible. Okay, it starts to get a little muddy in the middle, but much better than I expected. 

The Judges: Len thinks he remembered the routine, so well done. Bruno felt something. There was a hint of elegance. Carrie Ann was happily surprised, but she has to work on fluidity. 

The Scores: Carrie Ann: 6 Len: 6 Bruno: 6

Early Verdict: Amazingly, it looks like Bill Nye will have to play the part of terrible-but-funny this season, as the other Bill is going to actually make an effort. Good for him!

 

Valerie & Tristan

The Background: She tells Tristan she thinks he is a very handsome young man, and he's straight! Well, that's definitely the sort of thing old ladies can get away with saying. Oh, and she's dying. Sort of. Tristan was worried about her health, but now he's just inspired by her. And, of course, we should be. I'm still amazed she's doing this show. But I suspect we're going to be drowning in sap shortly. 

The Dance: She danced at Radio City Music Hall as a kid, so she actually knows how to do this. Tom wants to point out that everyone gave Valerie a standing O just for being alive. Yes, amazing, she's alive, let the woman dance! It's a very, very nice dance, though I'm fairly sure Tristan is afraid to give her anything more challenging for fear of breaking her. More wild applause. She's still alive! "It's good to be alive, and it's even better to be dancing!" she says. 

The Judges: Bruno says how can you criticize a national treasure? Except… her shoulders hunched sometimes. But he's so happy she's here! Carrie Ann tearfully thanks her for being on the show. Yes, she has to work on her spots, but she's weepy just looking at her. Len thought there was an ease and an elegance to it. Hey, the judges actually gave her notes, so they don't think she's going to die immediately after the show. A vote of confidence, finally!

The Scores: Carrie Ann: 7 Len: 7 Bruno: 7

Early Verdict: Tristan is going to have to give her more to do, as she's not made of glass and I think, having seen her dance, she can handle it. Don't Cloris Leachman her, Tristan!

 

Snooki & Sasha

The Background: Pregnancy changed the "Jersey Shore" star's life, and she's thrilled to have a short partner. She's also glad he's only a little annoying. And she's not a hot mess, people! They'll be doing the cha cha cha.

The Dance: As I expected, feisty. This is actually pretty good, though we knew she could dance from all the times she climbed on tables on "Jersey Shore." 

The Judges: Carrie Ann thought it was great and thought her form was great. Len thought she was like a pocket rocket. Carrie Ann thinks he doesn't know what that means, and he doesn't. He loved her footwork, too. Bruno thinks her legs are well placed.

Tom can't understand why she thinks she's a hot mess. She felt awesome during the dance! So there!

The Scores: Carrie Ann: 8 Len: 8 Bruno: 7

Early Verdict: Snooki has a fan base, though I'm not sure how much MTV/ABC crossover there is. There is, however, a lot of "Jersey Shore" hate. so that could work against her. But if she keeps getting these kinds of scores, she could surprise everyone and, yes, win fans.

So, we've met our dancers for season 17, and it's a far more talented bunch than I think anyone was expecting. Amber is the top scorer and Bill the bottom, but that doesn't mean much. Vote, America!

Who do you think will come out on top? Who do you think is going home? Who do you think deserves to go?