"Dancing on the Edge" (Starz, Saturdays). Stephen Poliakoff ("The Lost Prince") wrote and directed this early-1930s period piece set at the intersection of jazz and aristocracy. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Louis Lester, a black British jazz genius whose career starts to get traction when he crosses paths with hustling music journalist Stanley Mitchell (Matthew Goode) and gets himself a pair of singers (Angel Coulby and Wunmi Mosaku). A kind of "Upstairs/Backstage" drama, with a mystery attached, the five-part miniseries (plus a long epilogue -- appendix might be the better word -- in the form of interviews) takes its time with the material. Scenes have room to breathe and conversation is not every word to the point. (The series addresses issues of race as well as the usual ones of class.) The pace is mostly languorous, despite the jazz theme, and even when the going gets going, steps are only slightly quickened. It's not perfect -- the music (all original, and written by Adrian Johnson) is mostly wrong for the year, and the public scenes are underpopulated, possibly from the price of hiring so many speaking parts. (The excellent cast also includes John Goodman, Jacqueline Bisset, Janet Montgomery, Anthony Head, Allan Corduner and Jenna-Louise Coleman, whom you may know as Clara Oswald, companion to Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor). The solution to the mystery is made obvious pretty early, though Poliakoff sows enough doubt to keep you from quite making up your mind. But the faults are small and noticeable, really, only because so much else feels right. It is all very pretty and seductive and draws you in and draws you along, just as the characters are seduced and drawn along, by music or money or sex or love.
"The Clash: The Last Gang in Town" (www.funnyordie.com, online at your pleasure). Making the rounds of the Web-fed platforms is this piece from and starring Fred Armisen -- late of "Saturday Night Live" and still of "Portlandia" -- as Ian Rubbish, the 1970s bottle-blond British punk rocker he introduced in an April edition of "SNL" and brought back for his swan song in May, with an indie-history supergroup that featured Steve Jones, Kim Gordon, J. Mascios, Aimee Mann and Michael Penn. Here, in a "short doc" nominally directed by Rubbish himself, Armisen sits down with Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of the Clash -- really -- and gets up with them to play his "Hey Policeman!" Its brief extended theme, to overthink this slightly, is the way that lesser artists ape greater ones, without seeing the difference or a problem: "What we did with the Clash," Ian says of his old band, the Bizzaros, "is they would say something political and we would say something like, 'We agree with the Clash,' or, 'What they said.'" And: "I remember 'White Riot.' We had a song called 'White Riot, As Well." More Rubbish, though not much more, can be found at www.ianrubbish.com, including downloads of "Hey Policeman," "It's a Lovely Day" (the swan-song song mentioned above) and Rubbish's confusing odes to Margaret Thatcher ("There's a lady in 10 Downing / Check her out, she's quite astounding"). "We thought it was a joke," Sex Pistol Steve Jones says in the fauxcumentary that introduced the character. (You can find it if you try). "Turned out he just really liked her."
"The Birthday Boys" (IFC, Fridays). An engaging new sketch comedy, both funny ha-ha and funny strange, from the L.A.-based sketch group of the same name. (They work out of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater.) Producers include Bob Odenkirk, who is also essentially a co-star, Ben Stiller (on whose own sketch comedy, "The Ben Stiller Show," Odenkirk worked), and Stuart Cornfeld, who (besides co-producing "The Elephant Man" and a mess of Stiller films) played Judge Reinhold's boss in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." (In the interest of full disclosure, his sister Lois sold me my first car, a 1966 maroon VW Squareback. It was not 1966.) A mix of perfectly-realized media parody, meta-humor, small ideas taken to extremes (the ramifications of the phrase "nothing to write home about," for example) and random weirdness, each episode -- the two I've seen, anyway -- knits itself into something resembling a whole, in the manner of "Monty Python's Flying Circus," as if that all happened now, and in Southern California. The cast remains anonymous; catch phrases are busted out only to make fun of catch phrases.
"Nashville" (ABC, Wednesdays). After a first season that seemed to run increasingly away from all the things that made this show special -- most of them rooted in music, and a convincing portrayal of its making and selling -- and toward the kind of incredible drama better left to the same network's "Scandal" and "Revenge," "Nashville," for the moment at least, is back on track. After a busy second-season opener that raised and took care of various strands of old business, the story feels life-sized and believable. There are signs of craziness ahead, but it is not currently troubling its remarkable leads: Connie Britton's Rayna James (country classic), Hayden Panettiere as Juliette Barnes (glam, looking to get real), and Clare Bowen's Scarlett O'Connor (young old soul). Panettiere, especially, was asked to act out extravagantly in the first season; but she is getting to play human again, and Britton and Bowen seem incapable of ever being anything less than real, whatever they're given to do or say. And Lennon Stella, as Rayna's older daughter Maddie, seems ready to make that trio a quartet. (The men have their part to play, but they are really secondary characters.) There's a new boss in town this season (Jeff Fordham), whose eyes are dollar signs, with a new hot-young singer (Aubrey Peeples), who is giving Juliette a taste of what Juliette gave Rayna, all-about-Eve-wise. Y'all come back now, hear?Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun