WHAT I'M LOVING MOST (aka: The best of what I've seen so far, or the skater/team that really surprised me and far surpassed my expectations.)
Mens Short Program
Jeremy Ten, Canada: A Single Man Score
Jeffrey Buttle and David Wilson have created a great program to a wonderful soundtrack.
Mens Free Skate
Jeremy Abbott, USA: Life is Beautiful Score
I was looking forward to this program the second that he announced his music, and it doesn't disappoint. For as boring as some find David Wilson, I'd have to say that he did extremely well with the men this season.
[honorable mention: Shawn Sawyer, Canada: Alice in Wonderland]
More David Wilson if you're keeping track.
Ladies Short Program
Ksenia Makarova, Russia: Jasmin
This program really made me join the Makarova bandwagon, as far as the short program is concerned.
[honorable mention: Cynthia Phaneuf, Canada: Jesse Cook/Spanish Guitar]
Ladies Free Skate
Alissa Czisny, USA: Winter to Spring
I'm not joining the "oh she's completely past her consistency problems" bandwagon just yet, but I think this is a great selection for Alissa, and the four minutes flew by at Skate Canada.
Pairs Short Program
Sui/Han, China: Country Dance, Cotton Eyed Joe
A young Chinese pair with expression.. enough said!
Pairs Free Skate
Hausch/Wende, Germany: Prince of Persia Score
This one probably comes as the biggest surprise, but I was blown away by the improvements this team has made. The first half of the program in particular has some really nice choreography.
[honorable mention: Stolbova/Klimov, Russia: La Strada]
After an otherwise boring and listless short program, I couldn't believe these were the same skaters.
Crone/Poirier, Canada: Eleanor Rigby
I'm not in love with this particular arrangement of the song, but the Christopher Dean choreography is unique and interesting.
[honorable mention: Kerr/Kerr, Great Britain: Exogenesis]
Technique issues aside, it seems like I'm always relieved that this team skates to something more modern in an ice dance world where ANYTHING is permitted in the free dance yet many teams choose to pick over-used classical greatest hits.
WHAT I'M REALLY NOT LOVING AT ALL (or in clearer terms, WTF was that?)
The four "winners" in this category, in random order:
Jeremy Abbott, USA, Short Program: Viejos Aires
I put up a poll asking which program between Abbott and Brian Joubert was more awkward-- Abbott ended up winning the vote. Until he tones down or better understands the hand movements, I can't really take it too serious.
Fumie Suguri, Japan, Long Program: Song of Scheherazade
We all know Fumie should have retired after her 2006 World Championship silver medal win. This program tries to be... unique? She tried something really different for her 2007 free skate (I guess a good reason that she stayed in) and I loved it, but this time it just doesn't work.
The program isn't even on YouTube, if that says something.
Mysliveckova/Novak, Czech Republic, Free Dance: Gay Nightclub Greatest Hits (okay, I came up with that myself, but seriously..)
Too many music cuts and far from the best renditions of the songs. I wonder how someone could come up with something like this.
The short dances in general
Blah. The ISU wanted to make ice dance more appealing so they came up with this idea. I liked seeing the exact same compulsory dance performed over and over rather than trying to include the same step within a program that is supposed to have a theme and choreography. I find myself liking the music choices more than the programs themselves often here, and none of them are really standing out as being amazing. I originally had some hope, but that didn't last long.
THE MOST IMPROVED
Or... a list of the skaters that I am enjoying much more this year than in the past
Joshi Helgesson, Sweden
Still plenty of ways to go, but I was completely bored by her last season. She's found a modern-ish style that seems to work for her, and she's skating much more smoothly.
Min-Jeong Kwak, South Korea
I was one of the few (or at least it seemed that way) that thought this girl was totally over-hyped last season, but I like how she's actually listening to the music this year. The jumps aren't there yet, but her short program in particular is a huge improvement.
Amelie Lacoste, Canada
I've always enjoyed her skating, but Jeffrey Buttle has managed to give her an edge and dynamic to the choreography in her new programs that definitely made me pay attention-- even in her way over-used Scheherezade free skate. We've all seen it before, but she manages to keep it interesting.
Peter Liebers, Germany
25th at Worlds the last two seasons. His music was cool but the skating wasn't that great. This year, he's come out with two great programs and a whole new confidence. It worked well at Nebelhorn Trophy, but the verdict is still out on whether he can keep it up the whole season.
Armin Mahbanoozadeh, United States
I rooted for him last year, even though he really didn't have any spectacular results. His two programs at Skate America (especially his free skate) really gave me a sense of excitement that has been pretty much dead so far this season. His triple Axels, when landed, are absolute beauties.
Takahito Mura, Japan
He, like several of the other Japanese men, can still improve greatly in his face and overall expression, but he was much more enjoyable and memorable at NHK than I remember him being in previous years. Part of his music in the free skate is just gorgeous, and I hope he gets comfortable enough to really sell it.
EVERYTHING ELSE THAT I'M LIKING SO FAR
Not quite on my "loving most" list, but still very good
Tatsuki Machida, Japan, Long Program: Legends of the Fall
Now he's a Japanese skater with some expression. I think he will eventually be a strong force.
Adam Rippon, USA, Long Program: Piano Concerto No. 2
When he's on, this is a gorgeous program.
Mao Asada, Japan, Long Program: Liebestraum
Obviously it can only get better after the Japan Open and NHK, but I like the potential I see.
Kiira Korpi, Finland, Long Program: Evita
I always want her to do well but I've been totally underwhelmed the last few years. This program is probably my favorite that she's done, and the dress is gorgeous.
Carolina Kostner, Italy: Both Programs
Like Korpi, I enjoy Carolina but I've been bored by her for a few years. She has two completely unrelated programs this year, and both work very well.
Akiko Suzuki, Japan: Both Programs
Once again, two great programs from Akiko.
Pang/Tong, China, Short Program: Nocturne
I think this has the potential to grow even more, but I love the choreography here.
Yankowskas/Coughlin, USA: Both Programs
Put quite simply, they are an American pair that isn't borderline boring. Amazing.
Coomes/Buckland, Great Britain, Free Dance: The Lion King
Oh, how cheesy this might be for some people. I actually really enjoy it and love the highlight moves towards the end that build for an exciting finish.
EVERYTHING ELSE THAT I'M NOT REALLY LIKING
Not terrible, but far from my favorite. This could be because I don't like the programs themselves, or because I was really expecting more out of the skater/team
Artur Gachinski, Russia-- choreography is just silly to me, and no real connection to anything but the ice.
Brian Joubert, France-- the programs themselves aren't horrible (I can see myself enjoying the free skate), but I like his old style. It wasn't that he needed a complete make-over, he just needed more transitions and less two-foot skating!
Takahiko Kozuka, Japan-- one of my favorite skaters, but neither of the programs are doing much for me this year. So disappointing.
Viktor Pfeifer, Austria-- Both programs are pretty similar in style, and they just aren't anything special.
Alban Preaubert, France-- I usually love his uniqueness, but I'm bored by him this season.
Daisuke Takahashi, Japan-- Just a bit of a let down after some of his previous programs. His free skate is growing on me, though.
Mirai Nagasu, United States-- The short program bores me.
Cynthia Phaneuf, Canada-- After having a great short program, her free skate is back to the typical everything else she's ever done style, and it's boring too.
Ashley Wagner, United States-- Probably my favorite American, but I'm disappointed she went back to her old short program that never did much for me, and she has a free skate with a concept that's been done many times before.
Della-Monica/Kocon, Italy-- I had such high hopes for them as they were among my favorite newer skaters, but the short program this season just doesn't do it for me.
Savchenko/Szolkowy, Germany-- I guess the verdict is still out since they've competed just one time, but I think I had much higher hopes after loving both of their programs last season, especially the free skate.
Faiella/Scali, Italy-- Another team that I loved last season, but even without the costume problems at Cup of China, their free dance seemed to go on for hours. Not a good thing.
THANKS FOR DUMPING THAT PROGRAM, GLAD YOU AGREE IT WASN'T WORKING
Two programs (so far) that have been rightfully dumped
Viktoria Helgesson, Sweden, Short Program: Nessun Dorma
The Jeff Beck guitar version just didn't do it for me at NHK, when all 5,000 other renditions of the song seem to work well for skaters. I was most delighted when she returned to last seasons short at Skate America.
Cappellini/Lanotte, Italy, Free Dance: Our Love is Easy/Goodnite
I love this team but their struggles early in the season may have very well been from hating this boring free dance-- I know I did. They withdrew from Skate America in order to switch coaches go back to the drawing board on a free dance. Another good call.
THE BIGGEST "WOW" MOMENT SO FAR
Sonia Lafuente and her triple flip.
Yeah, kind of a random topic, but I had to include it. These days, most ladies skaters avoid the triple jumps that they can't do well, and it seems like we hardly ever see anyone really learn any new triples once they have been on the senior scene for a while. Not the case with Lafuente, who had been doing toes, Salchows, and loops for a few years. Watch how beautiful this triple flip is at the beginning of her Skate Canada long program. I had no idea she learned the jump!
SKATERS PAYING HOMAGE TO OTHER SKATERS
Italy's Samuel Contesti wanted hair exactly like Swiss World Champion Stephane Lambiel, so he grew it out over the summer (not a great pic.. sorry)
Russia's Sergei Voronov loved Alexander Abt's free skate from 2002 so much that he decided to wear a very similar costume and start his program off almost the exact same way
And it's as long as ever this season. The following skaters/teams have missed at least one Grand Prix assignment due to injury/illness:
Artem Borodulin, Russia
Michal Brezina, Czech Republic
Sergei Voronov, Russia (Withdrew after a minute of his Cup of China free skate)
Sarah Hecken, Germany
Laura Lepisto, Finland
Sarah Meier, Switzerland
Blanc/Bouquet, France (Their reasoning is still unknown)
Cappellini/Lanotte, Italy (Well, not injury or illness-- as noted in the "Thanks for dumping that program")
Kerr/Kerr, Great Britain