Hello TV-lovers welcome once again to my round-up of the week in telly programmes featuring a lot of jazz music, some colourful Mancunians and a sitcom the BBC seemingly want to hide away.
There are some names that can sell a TV programme on their own and writer/director Stephen Poliakoff is one of those names. In the past Poliakoff has produced some well-received one-off TV dramas such as Shooting the Past and Capturing Mary however his new offering Dancing on the Edge is his first full series. The series takes us back to 1932 and explores the relationship between aspirational music journalist Stanley Mitchell (Matthew Goode) and jazz band leader Louis Lester (Chiwetel Ejiofor) a both experience success and tragedy. The two first meet when Stanley recruits Louis for a one-off appearance at The Imperial Hotel to a largely unimpressed crowd who have never experienced jazz music before however they do win a fan in mysterious jazz aficionado Donaldson (Anthony Head) who promises to spread the word about the Louis Lester Band. The band also take Donaldson’s suggestion of recruiting a singer and end up getting a two for one package in the form of extremely talented lead singer Jessie (Angel Coulby) and backing vocalist Carla (Wunmi Mosaku) who bring a lot more energy to the band. When the band perform at Donaldson’s garden party they are unaware that Prince George (John Hopkins) is an attendance and the fact that they have performed for royalty soon propels the band’s profile. Meanwhile Stanley has caught the eye of the wealthy beauty Pamela (Joanna Vanderham) and Stanley is falling for society photographer Sarah (Janet Montgomery). However all is not well due to the unstable nature of Pamela’s brother Julian (Tom Hughes) who is intent on romancing Jessie while Julian’s boss Masterson (John Goodman) is another dodgy character who likes to be surrounded by gold on his personal train and also has a habit of leaving beaten women in his hotel room.
The first thing to say about Dancing on the Edge is that it is utterly beautiful both in the way it is shot and its production design. Every set is beautifully crafted from Stanley’s cramped office to the majesty of The Imperial Hotel ballroom and the sleazy nature of the jazz club in which Stanley and Louis first meet. Throughout the first two episodes of Dancing on the Edge I completely believed that the action was taking place in the 1930s and that was in part down to the attention to detail employed while designing the show. BAFTA and Emmy Award winning composer Adrian Johnston has also written some stunning jazz numbers which add more believability to the programme and are performed superbly by Merlin star Coulby who has a cracking singing voice. Poliakoff’s name has also attracted a top notch cast led by two of Britain’s most compelling screen presences in Goode and Ejiofor both of whom breathe life into their characters. Ejiofor give a calm and reasonable performance a Louis which allows Goode to be a little bit more manic as the over-worked Louis and together the two have a balanced relationship. Of the supporting cast I was also impressed by Coulby, Hughes, Head and of course John Goodman who was born to play an arrogant and slightly dangerous businessman. Though Poliakoff has crafted a decent enough story with a lot of twists and turns he hasn’t really bothered to add a lot of depth into his dialogue and a lot of it is very expositional. The biographies of various characters are whittled off as they are introduced while very little is left to our imagination and it’s almost as if Poliakoff feels he can get away with this sort of clunky dialogue because he is already an established name. Ultimately though I am intrigued enough to stay watching, at least for another episode, but this is mainly down to the design, music and performances rather than Poliakoff himself.
Hopping over to BBC3 now for two new programmes kicking off with The Year of Making Love a sort of dating show with a difference as psychologist Dr. Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic and relationship expert Emma Kenny attempt to use a scientific method to pair up 500 singletons. The programme, which is hosted by BBC3 mainstay Cherry Healey, follows these couples as they meet for the first time and then stays with them for up to a year to see if they have been able to maintain a relationship. The opening episode saw about ten matches however only two of the couples paired actually end up getting that elusive first date and it is those two couples who we follow here. First up is workaholic Nathalie who has found it hard to make a relationship work and feels that this will happen once again when she is paired with Rogan, who is much younger than her, however they are able to make it work. The problem was that Nathalie claimed that she wouldn’t jump into bed with Rogan after their first date together however, after a few too many drinks, they predictably ended up in bed together. After this incident Rogan didn’t call for ages but eventually Nathalie tracked him down and the two had another successful date at Thorpe Park but yet again they couldn’t keep their hands off each other and ultimately they decided not to see each other again. Faring better were Midlands-based Andy and Kirsty who clicked almost immediately and the two began a fairly heavy relationship which saw Andy move home to be nearer to Kirsty. I found Andy to be a bit extreme as he always had to plan extravagant trips away either to ask Kirsty to be his girlfriend or later to tell her he was in love with her. But I didn’t find it really sweet that this experiment had worked on at least one couple who seemed to be in a pretty secure relationship when this episode came to an end. The problem I had with The Year of Making Love was that we didn’t see how Emma or Thomas devised their formula in the first place which I thought would’ve been more interesting than some of the inane comments we were give here. Despite enjoying the concept of the show I don’t think I’ll be watching again as I feel The Year of Making Love will become a little bit repetitive.
A more enjoyable watch was the channel’s new docusoap People Like Us which took us to the Manchester suburb of Harpurhey which ten years ago was voted the most deprived area in Britain. People Like Us doesn’t offer up the same perma-tanned model-types that we’re used to seeing in constructed reality programmes but instead has central protagonists who aren’t exactly photogenic. Take portly market-trader Jamie who is seemingly the Cassanova of the local indoor market as we see him being hit on by a fellow stall-holder despite the fact that he has just got engaged to his long-suffering girlfriend Lucy. Jamie’s straight-talking mum Donna rightly predicts it’s not going to last and soon enough Lucy is left heartbroken when she discovers that Jamie has been intimate with another woman. Elsewhere local newsagent David, who lives above the shop with his partner also called David, is about to debut his drag act Diana Dior on the unsuspecting patrons of the local pub for a performance that goes surprisingly well. It’s not all humour though as we meet 25 year old alcoholic Chris who has a more stable relationship with cider than he does with his much older partner 52 year old Nicki. The relationship between the pair is almost of that between mother and child than lovers and this is partly because Nicki can’t have children as she is a transexual after having been one of the first Brits to have gender reassignment surgery. My favourite characters in this opening episode though had to be the Wakefield family who own Harpurhey’s dry-cleaners Wishy Washy an establishment which is need of a lick of paint due to the fact that the back office is strew in graffiti while five of the driers on the blink. Wishy Washy is owned by Paul and Karren whose daughter Amber is off to Magaluf with a bunch of her friends including Codie who isn’t almost like the Wakefield’s third daughter. Codie is an extremely endearing young lady who fondly reminisces about visiting her mother in prison and is the one who gets the most out of the holiday as she has never been abroad before. Personally though I really enjoyed Paul’s one-liners to camera as he complained about Codie’s presence in the house ‘yet another F***ing woman’ and how the girls having their holiday clothes on full display in his living room made it look like a ‘f***ng jumble sale’. Despite some discrepancies in its tone I really enjoyed People Like Us which was a proper docu-soap in the vein of Airport or Paddington Green and benefited from having a bunch of colourful characters who were totally believable. While I’m not convinced that there hasn’t been one ounce of construction in the scene on shows I’d much prefer to watch a whole series of People Like Us than a single episode of Towie or Made in Chelsea.
Finally this week we had Being Eileen, a six part sitcom which acts as a spin-off to the 2011 Christmas special Lapland which saw Sue Johnston’s widow Eileen Lewis attempt to rejuvenate her life by going on holiday with her entire family. Lapland was a fairly forgettable effort so I’m not sure why the Lewis family have returned and this first episode didn’t really give me any evidence to support a full series. The basic plot saw Eileen’s two children Paula (Elizabeth Berrington) and Pete (Dean Andrews, replacing Stephen Graham) worry about their mother who they think has gone missing. In actuality Eileen has forgone her routine of cleaning in favour of spending the day at the local museum which makes Paula think she has gone off the deep end. The problem with Being Eileen is that the characters are neither interesting or particularly likeable with Paula’s husband Ray (William Ash) being an annoying tech-nerd while Pete’s wife Mandy (Julie Graham) is fairly obnoxious and hates the rest of her extended family. Obviously Johnston is the stand-out here but even she is wasted with a clichéd story about not wasting her life mourning for her late husband and instead living to the best of her abilities which appears to mean having barbecues in the middle of winter. Ultimately Being Eileen squanders an extremely talented cast with a very old-fashioned sitcom which isn’t as bad as say Mrs Brown’s Boys but instead is just very dreary and unoriginal. It appears as if even the BBC has no faith in it as they have scheduled it after the 10 o’clock news rather than adding it to their primetime comedy line-up.
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