Just what would it take to throw Strictly Come Dancing (BBC One) off its stride? Alien invasion? A robot uprising? Clearly it is going to require more than a once-in-a century pandemic. Because while Coronavirus has obviously brought complications to Strictly 2020 it hasn’t, on the evidence of a reliably glittery launch episode, sapped the heel-clicking juggernaut of any of its strut.
The series sashayed to the starting line of its 18th season with face-mask on and hands sanitised. How hugely soothing it was to have it back. As the pro dancers opened with a routine soundtracked by the confetti-strewn strains of Rozalla’s Everybody’s Free, it was a pleasure to be ushered once again into this parallel dimension of twirls, tight trousers and toe-tapping thrills .
Covid visibly made its presence felt as hosts Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman kicked off the evening standing the regulation two metres apart. And there were only three judges – Craig Revel Horwood, Shirley Ballas, and Motsi Mabuse – seated at separate podiums. Crowd favourite Bruno Tonioli was absent. He’s in the US adjudicating on Dancing with the Stars (he will join by computer link up for the results broadcasts).
The pro dancers, for their part, have pre-recorded all their group numbers having quarantined together. It wasn’t announced on air but backstage kissing between contestants and dancers is also forbidden for obvious reasons. So though Coronavirus hasn’t cancelled the reality institution outright it has temporarily put a halt to the Strictly Curse, whereby participants became romantically entangled off camera.
The biggest departure on launch night was that, rather than meeting live in the studio, celebs and pros were paired in advance – while pretending to be speechless with delight with their match. They will form a bubble during their time on the show.
Selecting potential winners was challenging but they all seemed a game bunch. There were charismatic first bows from hairy comedian Bill Bailey, Men Behaving Badly star Caroline Quentin and former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, dancing with audience fave Anton du Beke.
The BBC is also continuing with its tradition of attempting to woo younger viewers with the inclusion of Hrvy. He turned out to be a social media star and singer (actual name Harvey Cantwell) rather than a Doctor Who alien who had arrived at the wrong BBC studio by accident.
History was made, meanwhile, as gold medalist boxer Nicola Adams and pro Katya Jones became Strictly’s first same sex couple. “I want to set fire to the dance floor. I want to bust some moves,” enthused Adams.
“In these strange times we're living through, it feels right to do something different and take on a new challenge,” is how Bailey described his decision to sign-up to potentially three months of perspiring and pirouetting.
He’s absolutely correct that the world feels out of kilter. Yet Strictly, for all its concessions to Covid, felt reassuringly unchanged. With the New Normal becoming increasingly abnormal, this was comfort TV of the first rank. And, as the evening ended with a group dance to Phil Collins’s Two Hearts, the real thrill for Strictly fans was knowing the excitement has only started.