One of the pleasures of Dancing with the Stars (RTÉ One, 6.30pm) is watching the celebrities becoming progressively more accomplished as the weeks clip by. But as the series returns after a two-year hiatus, some contestants are already up and running and potentially twirling towards the grand final.
That's the lesson from episode two as the remaining six celebs make their debuts. It's an evening that pivots from torture to scorcher as early sound glitches are followed by a sizzling entrance by new frontrunner, singer Erica-Cody, and pro dancer Denys Samson (fresh from Dancing with the Stars Ukraine).
They deliver a sensational samba to Anne Marie and Little Mix's Kiss My (Uh Oh). Their reward is a stonking judges' score of 24 – the highest first dance tally in DWTS's five years.
"Absolutely fabulous" says Loraine Barry. "Lots of sparks here, fringe on skirt, attitude, hips – amazing," adds Arthur Gourounlian. He will know all about putting on a spectacle, having turned up wearing Louis XIV's pyjamas.
Cody is so effortlessly accomplished that she puts into the shade several other rip-roaring performances. Rugby sevens star Jordan Conroy nonetheless announces himself as another frontrunner as he and pro partner Salome Chachua execute a feverous salsa to Take You Dancing by Jason Derulo.
They are praised for their lifts by Brian Redmond, who points out that sending a partner skyward is a big ask so early in the contest. "Tremendous start, wow, wow, wow," agrees Loraine Barry. Conroy scores 22, putting him straight into second place.
A splash is likewise created by Paralympic swimming gold medallist Ellen Keane. She and Stephen Vincent dance a tango to Harry Styles's Golden, and are showered with compliments and a score of 21. "I take my hat off to you…You held your own," says Loraine Barry.
The energy and enthusiasm these performers bring to their routines will have thrilled viewers. Which is just as well, as the first 10 minutes are marred by sound issues which see the presenters' mouths move only for their speech to arrive seconds later. This is massively disconcerting: if there's one thing we don't need on a grim January night, it's a disembodied Nicky Byrne delivering dad jokes.
The other three contestants are a mixed bag, though nobody can quite match last week's Tour de Pants turn by cyclist Nicolas Roche. He's still rooted to the bottom of the leaderboard and surely a candidate for an early exit when eliminations began seven days hence.
Ex-newsreader Aengus Mac Grianna swaps headlines for hot-steps as he and Emily Barker perform a charleston to Adam Ant's Goody Two Shoes, scoring a respectable 16. Aslan guitarist Billy McGuinness, for his part, displays an irreverent side as he and Hannah Kelly dance a foxtrot to Monty Python's Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (and score 16).
Placing last on the night is Love Island star Matthew MacNabb, though he does have the excuse of having had to rehearse on his own after catching Covid. Together with Laura Nolan he dances a Viennese Waltz and scores 13.
That’s a long way behind Erica-Cody. Can he make it through next week’s elimination and hoof another day? As things stand, he and Nicolas Roche are surely equally at risk of the trap-door. But seven days is a long time in dance-based reality TV. And, if previous seasons are any indication, Dancing with the Stars still has a surprise or two up its ruffled sleeves.