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TV review: Dancing on the Edge; Common Ground

John Goodman (Masterson) in Dancing on the Edge. Photo: BBC/Ruby Film and Television

The problem with Dancing on the Edge is that it doesn’t have much edge. At least, precious little is to be found in the first two episodes. It has intrigue, atmosphere and ostentation in abundance, but drama-wise there has not been a great deal to get the pulse racing.

But as this is a Stephen Poliakoff production we shouldn’t really expect much else. The venerated writer and director has cultivated a reputation for taking time with his narrative, sometimes wilfully so, and as Dancing on the Edge stretches over five episodes you’d hope the series would gradually build upon the slowest of slow burn starts.

However, episode two somehow manages to display even less urgency than the first, so if the series continues in this direction the climax could prove about as thrilling as watching the test card.

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Louis Lester, the English leader of an American big band in London, 1933. At first, the only interest the band attracts is from the immigration office, which is forever hassling its members over their work permits. But with both jazz music and black Americans a source of curiosity, and with music journalist Stanley (Matthew Goode) championing their cause in print, London’s fashionable set begins to take notice.

[pullquote]Episode two somehow manages to display even less urgency than the first – if the series continues in this direction the climax could prove about as thrilling as watching the test card[/pullquote]

When the Prince of Wales and his younger brother George attend a concert at the stuffy Imperial Hotel, the Louis Lester Band becomes the hottest toff ticket in town. It also draws the patronage of a sinister American millionaire, played by a curiously underpowered John Goodman, who lavishes his largesse upon the band for as yet unspecified, but probably not entirely musical, reasons of his own.

Dancing on the Edge does have a lot going for it, certainly enough to draw me back for episode three. The set-up is original, the music is fabulous and every scene looks absolutely exquisite. The cast largely comprises young, thin and beautiful actors, frequently in states of undress, which leads me to the conclusion that Poliakoff may be self-indulgent, but he certainly isn’t stupid.

Sky Atlantic’s Common Ground is a series of 15-minute character sketches set in and around a south London common. It kicks off with Floyd, played by Charles Dance, an ageing rocker and reluctant grandfather whose rock’n’roll lifestyle is at variance with the solidly middle-class daughter and son-in-law he lives with. The joke is a good one, and Dance’s performance is a joy, but the show had run its course after 15 minutes.

Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross were reunited on TV for the first time since the notorious Sachsgate scandal, with the former a guest on the latter’s ITV chat show.

“You’re like bloody Fagin,” accused Brand, placing the blame upon the malevolent influence of his older, though hardly wiser, phone prank co-conspirator.

“You buggered off out of the country and left me to deal with it,” Ross responded.

By ‘deal with it’, I can only assume Ross was referring to the abject, grovelling public apology he made to salvage his career.

Dancing on the Edge, BBC2, Monday, February 4 and Tuesday, February 5, 9pm
The Jonathan Ross Show, ITV, Saturday, February 2, 9.45pm
Common Ground, Sky Atlantic, Monday, February 4, 9pm