HALFWAY through the first episode of Steven Poliakoff’s new drama Dancing On The Edge, black bandleader Louis Lester remarked: “Some things are meant to take time.” It was a telling line. With Poliakoff, the pace is invariably languorous.
Dancing On The Edge - BBC2, Monday and Tuesday, 9pm
Danny Baker’s Great Album Showdown - BBC4, Tuesday-Thursday, 9pm
Spiral - BBC4, Saturday, 9 and 10pm
There’s always a party scene, out of doors in brilliant sunshine. A winsome girl in a frock will sigh and wonder why these frivolities can’t go on forever. Meanwhile, the viewer –or this one at least – sighs and wonders why a giant Monty Python cartoon boot can’t suddenly descend from the sky.
Poliakoff has excited me but he’s also irritated me. Other dramatists, forced to tell their stories in three instalments in straitened times, must look on with envy when he gets six. In Dancing On The Edge, a sinister squillionaire chartered a private train for Louis’ jazzers and their posh camp followers. An astonished Louis said: “You must have to tell someone your route, surely.” The rich man said: “Why?” This is what a Poliakoff drama does. Charges across the schedules, forcing everything else to make way.
But, having said all that, I’m really liking this one. There are echoes of Poliakoff’s recent movie Glorious 39, with all these toffs loafing around being decadent. In Dancing On The Edge, a beautifully bored blonde rose at 2pm and for her that was early. Later she said: “I so rarely watch anybody work.” Poliakoff obviously loves this territory, and is loving the opportunity to plonk a black combo in 1930s London, to entertain some and appal others in a swanky hotel called the Imperial, with one of the prune-faced diners requesting fresh crockery when Louis walked within three feet of her table. This prompted the line: “Sometimes it’s those that seem the most educated who turn out to be the most ignorant, the most prejudiced.”
In this hotel, down in the bowels, masons meet. Secret London is a recurring theme for Poliakoff, and he usually has someone taking photographs to illustrate the power of images. He’s well-served by an excellent cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor as Louis, already wondering when the poshos, including royalty, will tire of the band; Anthony Head as Donaldson (I’m a man of leisure addicted to the new”); Joanna Vanderham as the blonde and Janet Montgomery as the photographer; and especially Matthew Goode as the music-scene fixer, a none-too-distant relative of Burt Lancaster’s J J Hunsecker in The Sweet Smell Of Success. Oh, and there’s also Jacqueline Bisset as the foxy Lady Something-or-other who keeps her copies of Music Express in bound volumes – my kind of woman. The opening double-header ended with a murder. Poliakoff in Non-Languorous Scene Shock!
You guess that Bisset with her music mags would be Danny Baker’s kind of woman, too. In his Great Album Showdown, he waxed lyrical about waxings. Music issued on 12ins of black plastic and not just the music: the sleeve design, the liner notes, the crackle of anticipation as the needle drops, the rhythmic phtt-phtt of the run-out groove, the secret messages scratched round the labels, etc.
This show disappointed some for the complete lack of squabbling over the albums nominated by the host and his guests. I loved it, though have to admit that critical rigour deserts me whenever the cover of King Crimson’s prog-rock classic In The Court Of The Crimson King is flashed up. If Miranda did this, subliminally, that would be enough. I’d endure all the rubbish slapstick for the briefest glimpse of those enflamed tonsils.
I’d almost given up hope of hearing glam ponces Chicory Tip receive another name-check on state television, but this programme obliged. Just the merest mention, though. Anything more would have been pushing it. But the best bit about Great Album Showdown? That would be Jeremy Clarkson in Not Total Plonker Shock! If you had him down as the greatest-hits type, flinging CDs into the glove compartment of his latest penis extension, or worse, returning them to the wrong boxes, then he must have surprised you by reciting the lyrics of Genesis when they were still weird and still brilliant.
The slinky and seductive Spiral is back for a fourth run with Captain Laure Berthaud’s bad hair day, which lasted the entire second series, a distant memory. It’s French in every way, from the slapdash filming to the characterful faces, all plucked from Le Casting Centrale. Who looks the most French: Judge Roban (“Bonjour, Monsieur Jooge”) or Laure’s sidekick Gilou? The latter, I reckon. Last night, routinely around the station, he was wearing leather trousers. There are many rock stars who can’t get away with that look. Money-loving, cop-hating lawyer Josephine Karlsson, she of the femme fatale peekaboo, is No 3 in my list of Great TV Redheads, behind Mad Men’s Joan Holloway and Friday Night Lights’ Tami Taylor but ahead of Scooby-Doo’s Daphne. «