Dance Moms, awful but addictive

• Sarah Dempster's TV OD: 'It makes Keeping Up With The Kardashians look like Keeping Bees With The Dimblebys'

Abby Lee Miller is a visionary, a maverick, a self-styled "dance phenamenaaan" in XXXL glamour-slacks. Decades spent bellowing "MORE BUTT" at prepubescents have shredded Abby's larynx, leaving the 47-year-old Pennsylvanian with a voice like an industrial sander juddering the wrong way down whatever the loudest road in Pennsylvania is. It's a sound that lends urgency to the dance instructor's arsenal of motivational maxims, like "Everyone is replaceable" and "You are ruining your daughter's life". It's also the soundtrack to Dance Moms (Tuesday, 9pm, Bio), an astonishingly loud reality soap that charts the ups and downs of the Pittsburgh-based Abby Lee Dance Company while performing an extended jazz-tap routine on the sobbing remains of human decency. It makes Keeping Up With The Kardashians look like Keeping Bees With The Dimblebys. It's bloody awful and I'm addicted to it. Help.

Currently halfway through its first season over here (although in the US it's already squat-thrusting towards the end of its third), it features the usual structured-reality volley of explosion noises, decontextualised reaction shots and recaps of things that have literally only just happened. Amid the clamour, the titular "moms" sit around in the studio's "observation mezzanine" watching their daughters yawning in tulle.

One mother, Christi, is convinced that Abby's devotion to star pupil Maddie is a ruse to make her beloved Chloe fail. Another, Kelly, bobs her head around and launches howitzers of you-can't-handle-the-truth "sass" at everyone within a 30-mile radius. A third, Cathy says things like, "I am not here to be your cheerleader", and has the eyes of someone who'd gladly dangle you by the ankles over a vat of boiling Gatorade if it'd bag her little princess a place on the Cuban-jazz improv programme. But, really, all the moms are just here as garnish. They're people-parsley. Because hey, honks Dance Moms, it's Abby Lee Miller's world: we just cower in it.

It's impossible to overstate how unpleasant this woman is. Abby is built like a cooling tower and wears a floor-length black cardigan that makes her look as if she's squeezing herself through stage curtains to tell us off for eating crisps too loudly. Her MO is breathtakingly simple: she shouts at people until they agree to do what she wants them to do. In one of the many orchestrated fight scenes that pebbledash the series, Abby tells an exhausted infant to "suck it up. I don't wanna see those tears", while chopping at the air like it's pork. In another scene she threatens to "take all this away from you, Christi. FOR. EVER", while doing hand-cymbals so violent that Christi's head vibrates like a gong.

Yet, astonishingly, her young pupils adore her. While their mothers bitch and bicker, the nippers flip and tumble through rehearsals with the dedication of athletes and the patience of tiny saints. Each week, we join these spangled marvels as they celebrate the miracle of dance in a different municipal leisure centre. This week's episode sees them perform Where Have All The Children Gone, an actual meditation on child abduction that will one day form the centrepiece of Apocalypse! The Musical. "I am not comfortable with this," winces mum Holly, the sole voice of reason. But they moonwalk on, regardless.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter that Dance Moms is cerebrum-melting guff of the first water. It doesn't matter that were you to wander into the backstage area, you would find a small door beyond which lurks only the shrieking void of eternal structured-reality nothingness, and Ollie from Made In Chelsea, crying. All that matters is Abby Lee Miller shouting "hardball" at a wall as she leads her panting charges and their harrumphing mothers on a conga line to "THE VERY TAAAAP". As Christi snaps while watching her nine-year-old cartwheel past in a lace garter, "This is bullshit. I love it".


Sarah Dempster

The GuardianTramp

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