Strictly Come Dancing season 20 review: fizzy as a bottle of champagne, wackier than a night at the circus

Hosts Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly with the celebrity and professional dancers who will dance on Strictly Come Dancing 2022 (Guy Levy/BBC/PA) (PA Media)
Hosts Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly with the celebrity and professional dancers who will dance on Strictly Come Dancing 2022 (Guy Levy/BBC/PA) (PA Media)

The disco ball spins, the theme tune strikes up and a new batch of nervous celebrities prepare to don their dancing shoes for 13 weeks of gruelling training.

That’s right: the juggernaut that is Strictly Come Dancing is back once more, and though it offers nothing new to the seasoned (or even casual) fan, it’s as fizzy and fun as a bottle of champagne – and wackier than a night out at the circus.

The ingredients were all there. Craig Revel Horwood strutted his stuff among a bevy of dancers in carnival costumes; a grey-haired Anton Du Beke beamed benevolently from behind the judge’s podium and Claudia Winkleman was as sure of foot and long of fringe as ever.

But the stars of the show are not the judges (though Shirley Ballas’ insistence on giving a standing ovation to every couple who danced was very sweet). We were introduced to our celebrities well in advance of the show’s launch, of course, but this was the first night we got to see them in action.

Naturally, the dancing ability of those celebrities varied wildly and as might be expected, most of them had a way to go before being able to keep up with their professional partners – not that you would have known it from the judges’ diplomatic comments, most of which were cheered wildly by the audience.

And was Craig booed? Of course. “Oh shut up,” he told the crowd fondly, before telling Kym Marsh: “And I loved your arabesque, darling.”

Whatever the abilities of the celebrities, their enthusiasm couldn’t be faulted: Marsh waxed lyrical about how excited her aunts were that she was on the show (she went onto introduce her partner Graziano to her entire extended family) while Radio 2 DJ Richie Anderson called his first dance “honestly one of the best moments of my life.”

This year, the powers that be have also introduced a new variation on the pairings: a male-male and female-female dancing couple made their debuts for the first time in the show’s history. These were Anderson and Giovanni Pernice, alongside comedian Jayde Adams and Karen Hauer.

It’s long overdue, really: the shake-up was a welcome addition to the (very) well-established Strictly formula – and you would have to have had a heart of stone not to cheer wildly when Adams danced the samba to Christina Aguilera’s Dirrty. “I didn’t think there could be any more fabulousness in my life and then I met this woman [Hauer],” Adams said in the intro video. Amen to that.

And of course, there are the inevitable emotional beats. Watching Adams tear up after finishing her first dance (in interviews, she’s explained how the last time she danced was with her sister Jenna, who died several years ago) brought a lump to the throat of this reviewer and neatly underlined just how much of a treasured institution Strictly is - as did seeing Tony Adams hold back his dismay after his clumsy football-themed tango.

Even only one episode in, it’s still remarkably easy to pick out the frontrunners. Singer Fleur East dazzled, as did CBBC presenter Molly Rainford with a funky samba. Wildlife presenter Hamza Yassin also made a splash with his foxtrot and actor Will Mellor took the roof off the place with a jaw-dropping jive; they’ll be the ones to beat.

Is it groundbreaking television? No. Has the formula changed much since it launched twenty years ago. Also no - and it’s about an hour too long to boot. But who cares? That’s not the point of Strictly Come Dancing. It’s as comforting as a warm bath and reliably sparky as ever: sink back and let it wash over you.

Strictly Come Dancing will be airing on BBC One on Saturdays