Among the new crop of shows that’s been offered this fall TV season, The Big Leap has to be my favorite.
Headed by the lovable Scott Foley (in a decidedly unlovable role), playing Nick Blackburn, this is a show about a reality dance competition (more So You Think You Can Dance less Dancing with the Stars). Well, sort of. See, the premise of this show is that you audition, and if you’re chosen, you’re in. There are no eliminations, so less of a competition and more of an exhibition – which makes sense when you consider Nick’s running gag that it isn’t a show “about dancing”.
Nick, himself, is something of a lost soul. This show is, assumedly, his last shot to bank a win for the network after his disastrous “Big Brother under water” concept went belly-up some years ago. We understand, based on a conversation we get to witness in the back of a future contestant’s car, that Nick isn’t thrilled to be on this project. He would rather push the boundaries of the reality genre, instead he’s put in charge of this “fluff piece”. So, he’ll make the most of it by drumming up the drama and ignoring the actual conceit of the show (hence…it’s not a show about dancing).
Now, some years ago, Unreal tried to tackle the dark and gritty world of reality dating competitions (hello The Bachelor), and succeeded to a certain degree. But, where Unreal was…well, unreal, The Big Leap isn’t actually too farfetched.
The hardest part of this show to believe is that big girl Gabby Lewis (Simone Recasner) would be a major player. Granted, the exhibition setup helps, not to mention that Gabby isn’t the only big girl on the roster, and then of course there’s the fact that Nick likes her for a love triangle. He believes she’s set up for inevitable failure, pitting her against predictable mean girl beanpole Britteny Lovewell (Anna Grace Barlow) in a love triangle with disgraced NFL star Reggie Sadler (Ser’Darius Blain). It’s obvious that Reggie has a thing for Gabby, but her self-esteem er…the lack thereof, has convinced her it can’t be possible. How? How could he love me, when he could have her? I’m not gonna lie, I don’t always buy her belief in this negative self-image, but Simone sells it so well.
I am glad that Gabby is given a shot, if only for the fact that it is depressing to only ever see skinny bitches dancing. Hell, Gabby is technically a dancer, albeit a break-dancer, but in the world of high art dance she wouldn’t stand a chance. This point is made blatantly clear in the last episode where they perform their version of Swan Lake for a prestigious ballet company. I will say, as a longtime fan of So You Think You Can Dance, I’ve only ever seen one big person on there and it was a guy, and he got eliminated pretty much first live show. But, that show’s bread and butter is largely ballroom, and ballroom isn’t usually size friendly.
But, Nick isn’t just picking on Gabby. Among the other contestants Nick has his eye on for interesting storylines are frustrated older housewife Julia Perkins (Teri Polo), whose midlife crisis derailed husband Kevin (played by comedian Seth Morris) has been secretly paying for online spank time with fellow contestant Raven Price (Karen Rodriguez). This initially uncomfortable situation slowly builds until Julia finally confronts Raven, it goes well…until Raven lets it slip that Kevin gave her 10K for her “life coach” education – ouch!
Here is a good exploration of the different pressures women are made to feel that the show presents – where Gabby and Raven represent the two sides of the size coin (Raven embraces her plus-size, using it to her financial gain), Julia represents the threat of time. She even runs a social media enterprise (well, tries to) dedicated to helping women like her accept their aging selves. But when Julia dances, when you see her battered naked feet, watch her lie in a bed with frozen food for her sore muscles, you can really feel how much time hurts her. Hell, there’s a fantastic conversation between her and Wayne Sleep (Kevin Daniels – who I know best as Longinus from Modern Family) where she finally reveals her fears. Wayne, by the way, is one of the hosts/judges of the show and I’ll get back to him.
Lastly, there’s Mike Devries (Jon Rudnitsky) a soon-to-be divorced man who is desperately clinging to the ghost of his relationship while simultaneously being oblivious to the heavy flirting of Paula Clark (played by Piper Perabo, who will forever be Coyote Ugly to me). The fun twist here is that Mike’s relationship went down the tubes after he got fired from his job and couldn’t bounce back, meanwhile, Paula is the one who was ultimately responsible for said job loss! Mike’s contributions to the show largely consist of facing down toxic masculinity via his group of friends – I’m not shitting on this mind you, I actually really enjoy it even if it is a little heavy-handed at times.
Oh, and, because I almost forgot, there is one final pair that is running Nick’s rat race (though maybe Nick isn’t privy to it? He doesn’t seem to be pushing it really): Gabby’s former dance bestie, and beau who turned out to be gay, Justin Calgrove (Raymond Cham Jr.) and Britteny’s flaming brother Simon (Adam Kaplan). Theirs seems to be more of a mentor-mentee setup with the possibility of romance. See, Justin came out only to have his father reject him and eject him from the house, while Simon is out and proud with no shame.
Nick’s main focus on Justin does appear to be helping him become more comfortable with himself, while also forcing a reunion between father and son – who have very different ideas of how Justin’s coming out actually went down.
Now, if all that isn’t enough for you, there’s also the judges/ hosts of the show: Monica Sullivan (Mallory Jansen – who you may remember as ADA from Marvel’s Agents of Shield) and the aforementioned Wayne Sleep.
Monica is an amazing character: a broken prima ballerina who has clearly settled and is taking out her rage and frustration on Nick’s poor motley crew…to absolutely hilarious results. Monica is pissed that her ballet troupe includes big girls, though I find she seems more focused on Gabby than Raven which I don’t understand as Gabby is only an understudy while Raven has a legit part…The only time we see this peculiarity is when they go to perform for Monica’s former company and Gabby is supposed to take on the role of the prince – after the mysterious, and talented, Claud (Fabrice Calmels) is kicked out due to an expired visa scandal (thanks a lot Meter Maid, played by Rachel A. Kim, a fun character who is sincerely known, as of this writing, as simply: Meter Maid).
Wayne, meanwhile, represents the Paula Abdul to Monica’s Simon Cowell. Ever willing to sooth the battered egos of his berated company, Wayne is essentially the den-mother of the show. He isn’t without edges however, as we see when he quickly capitalizes after discovering Nick has slept with Monica. Still, for the most part, I’m curious to see where Wayne is headed and how he will grow.
Oh yes, and Alan (Tim Lyons) poor, poor Alan. He’s the best.
Three episodes in this show has introduced us to most of our main players. It has set up the larger plot points which will unfold throughout the season, and built a solid foundation. Basically, if you’re not sold on this show by episode three I don’t see it happening. This is one of those shows that gets you from the pilot or it doesn’t get you at all. But to me, that’s a good thing. Most shows can’t hook you from the pilot – they want to, they aspire to, but it just isn’t a common occurrence. So for my money, when a show comes along that makes me interested immediately in the next episode, that’s a winner.
I would be fairly shocked if The Big Leap isn’t a success. It has charisma, it has character, it has a decently diverse offering – Latinos, and Asians, and Blacks, oh my! Is it perfect? Hell no, but very few shows are. I think it’s a step in the right direction though, I mean…dare I say? A…Step Up! Sorry, not sorry…but seriously, don’t let my bad pun make you sleep on this awesome dramedy. I will say, if it does fail, I don’t think it will be a strike against the show – it’s on Fox after all and they have a bad habit of neglecting their shows (although, they have been better as of late, and really they liked to fuck over sci-fi stuff mostly).