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Dancing on the Edge - TV review

Entertainment | Published:

Have you ever had one of those moments where everybody seems to be of one opinion – except you?

Apparently the Beeb's new five-parter about a black jazz band in the 1930s is the best programme of 2013 – which is quite an achievement considering it's only the fifth day of February.

Certainly the critics appear to be united. A quick scoot around the internet after last night's opening episode was like unleashing a geyser of treacly, gushing praise.

Comments included 'stunning', 'return to form', 'triumph' and 'I'll happily sell my wife and children into slavery if they give it another series'. (Well, all right, I'm exaggerating – only a bit, mind – but you get the idea.)

In short, it's quality TV and you should think yourself lucky that somebody's gone out and made it for you.

And then there's me.

Now, I'm going to say something slightly controversial here, but before I do, could I just ask that you make sure you're sitting down. On a cushion, preferably, and away from all sharp objects.

Right. Here goes: I was distinctly underwhelmed.

Are you still with me? Do you want me to fetch the smelling salts? Oooh, you have gone pale.

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Yep, I'm afraid I didn't think it was very good, which, presumably, makes me completely wrong. After all, those grown-up reviewers know what they're talking about, don't they?

Part of the problem for me was that it was set in the 1930s, yet didn't appear to be like any version of the 1930s I'd ever seen.

For starters, there were definitely people in the 1930s – my nan told me – but there were hardly any in this.

Yes, we had the odd passer-by, and in one establishing shot there were three cars, but other than that, we were either indoors, on the Severn Valley Railway, or in a garden. It was like watching the only people who existed. They might as well have been on Mars.

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Oh, it looked good, don't get me wrong. The costumes were nice, and everybody smoked as if their very lives depended on nicotine, but I was never convinced for a moment that I was watching the world as it was 80 years ago.

And then there's the plot, which was all over the place, frankly. We started off with Louis Lester (Chiwetel Ejiofor) seeking the help of his music journalist friend Stanley in order to get out of the country for some reason that will be drip-fed to us over the next few weeks, and then flashed back 18 months to see how the two met and how Lester's band went from dingy club to high society.

There was the clichéd audition montage as Lester searched for a singer, the odd anachronism – would they really have said "record store" in England in the 1930s? – and a 'picnic' aboard an American millionaire's private train which was like something out of The Avengers (with Patrick Macnee, not Iron Man.)

We also had two least royal looking royals ever put into a drama, and upper class-type actor Anthony Head stretching himself by playing an upper-class type.

I didn't swallow any of it, frankly. Throughout its 90 minutes I was always aware that I was watching a drama. I never felt immersed.

Still, for a programme about a jazz band the music was good.

A bit more of that, and a bit less of the rest of it, and we might be on to a winner.

Andrew Owen

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