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Sarah Hyland as Lisa Houseman and J. Quinton Johnson as Marco in ABC’s Dirty Dancing. (Photo: Eli Joshua Ade/ABC)

ABC aired its remake of Dirty Dancing [last night], and if you’re a lover of the 1987 Patrick Swayze-Jennifer Grey film, chances are you won’t be able to stop yourself from tuning in to see how well Colt Prattes and Abigail Breslin fill their shoes. Here’s some of what was going through my mind while watching a screener.

1. Someone picked up on how sexy Kelly Bishop [Marjorie Houseman] was at the end of the film.
According to ABC, the TV movie sets out to “dive deeper into the iconic characters,” and where it works well is with Baby’s mother, now played by Debra Messing. Really, her only memorable line in the film was the saucy, “I think she gets this from me,” while watching Baby dance to “I’ve Had (The Time of My Life)” with Johnny. But Marjorie has a real voice in the ABC movie — and she uses it to announce that Dr. Jake Houseman (Bruce Greenwood) hasn’t touched her in almost a year.

It’s smart to expand Marjorie’s role, of course, because three decades after the film’s release, many of its fans will now relate more to her than with Baby. But also, it helps open up another character, Vivian Pressman (now played by Katey Sagal), who gets to literally sing about the “Fever” she has for Johnny. The two women later end up having a conversation that humanizes seductress Vivian and emboldens lonely Marjorie — and it’s the most welcome addition to the entire movie.

2. Prattes is best when he’s shirtless. And wet.
On the one hand, anyone who’s brave enough to assume the role of Johnny Castle deserves some props. It’s not like he can comfort himself by saying this TV movie is introducing Johnny to a whole new generation. Dirty Dancing is always on cable — every generation has had a chance to meet him. So the pressure is on, but… it’s also kind of off. Knowing that no one will ever top Swayze’s smoldering performance and dancing, we can just sit back and appreciate Prattes’ strongest moments. Those are mainly when he takes off his shirt and jumps in the lake to practice the lift, and when he’s shirtless during the foreplay dance at his place (now set to Seal’s cover of “Cry to Me”).

Regarding the latter scene, the camera lingers long enough on his back muscles (which might, frankly, be better than Swayze’s), but I suspect I speak for us all when I say I missed Baby’s perfectly-timed butt caress.

3. I really miss choreographer Kenny Ortega.
ABC’s version of Dirty Dancing wants to flesh out the characters and “tackle social themes like race, women’s rights and the socio-economic division in the country at that time.” To that point, Sarah Hyland’s Lisa Houseman has a lengthier, more upsetting encounter with would-be date-rapist Robbie (Shane Harper) and a forbidden friendship with a young black musician, a new character named Marco (breakout J. Quinton Johnson), who offers to teach her the ukulele. But the title is still Dirty Dancing, and on that level, the movie has to produce — and it just doesn’t.

We know it’s all building to “I’ve Had (The Time of My Life).” I watched the screener on my computer in the office, and I had six colleagues gather behind me to watch that climactic performance. Unfortunately, the reboot’s routine is so slow and simple, it leaves you wondering if someone got injured and they had to tone it down on purpose.

Maybe the problem is that Johnny, Baby, and the rest of the cast actually sing the song here. That’s fine if you’re watching a stage show of Dirty Dancing — yes, there is one — but on my TV, even if they’re lip-synching to their own pre-taped vocals, I want to see them sweat. (Remember Swayze’s wet bangs during his performance?)

The characters sing their own music during other parts of the movie as well — including in the staff quarters, where the real magic should happen. It works when it’s Marco on a tiny stage performing Otis Redding’s “Love Man” with a band while everyone else dances, but not when it’s Johnny on the floor belting “Do You Love Me?” when you just want him to focus on grinding. Also, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the background dancer whose big solo moment involved… playing air piano.

Even when the characters aren’t “singing,” the choreography consistently underwhelms. Perhaps it’s because we’ve now seen so many seasons of sexy ballroom numbers on Dancing With the Stars, we know Johnny’s opening showstopper with pro partner Penny (a sufficiently sultry Nicole Scherzinger) isn’t a 10.

4. Wait, who’s singing this?
Sometimes it’s the actors (note: Hyland gets spared Lisa’s legendary performance of “Hula Hana of Kamana Whala Hula Bay”; it’s replaced by a genuinely excellent duet with Johnson’s Marco). But often, it’s not. The highlight of the cover songs is hands down Lady Antebellum’s version of “Hey Baby,” used again for the log scene. The most questionable is Calum Scott’s cover of Swayze’s “She’s Like the Wind.” It’s not like we didn’t make fun of that song back in the day, but it didn’t deserve to become a dance mix. (It’s essentially the opposite of how the 2011 big-screen remake of Footloose slowed down Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” into an Ella Mae Bowen cover that was quite good.)

The full track listing is below, so you can emotionally prepare yourself.
1. “Be My Baby” – Bea Miller
2. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” – Karmin
3. “Love Man” – J. Quinton Johnson
4. “Do You Love Me”- Colt Prattes, Nicole Scherzinger, J. Quinton Johnson
5. “Fever” – Katey Sagal, Colt Prattes
6. “When I’m Alone” – J. Quinton Johnson
7. “Wipe Out” – American Authors Feat. Lindsey Stirling
8. “Hungry Eyes” – Greyson Chance
9. “Hey Baby” – Lady Antebellum
10. “Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On” – Nicole Scherzinger, Abigail Breslin
11. “Cry To Me” – Seal
12. “They Can’t Take That Away” – Debra Messing
13. “Love Is Strange” – Abigail Breslin, Colt Prattes
14. “They Can’t Take That Away (Reprise)” – Bruce Greenwood
15. “She’s Like The Wind” – Calum Scott
16. “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” – Sarah Hyland, J. Quinton Johnson
17. “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” – The Cast Of Dirty Dancing (Colt Prattes, Abigail Breslin, J. Quinton Johnson, Nicole Scherzinger, Debra Messing, Bruce Greenwood)

5. Closure feels good.
No spoiler here, just appreciation for the movie having a definitive answer to whether Baby and Johnny stayed together.

By Mandi Bierly


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