TV review: Common Ground, Sky Atlantic

People Like Us, BBC3

The good news? You've just got a commission for a one-off comedy drama from Sky Atlantic. The bad news? You've got less than 12 minutes of airtime from soup to nuts. Taken together, Common Ground, a series of short films all set in the same stretch of south London, might eventually amount to more than the sum of its parts.

But that isn't going to make things any easier for the individual writers, who have to find some way to make the parts work on their own. Two strategies are obvious: compression, in which you simply squeeze a 40-minute drama into the space available, or butchery, in which you serve up a filleted sampler of a larger work. Katy Brand had opted for the first in her contribution, while Tom Davis and Eleanor Lawrence had gone the selection-box route.

Compression doesn't work, on this evidence. Eleanor, Brand's tale of a loveless organic café owner whose life takes a turn for the better when her shop goes bust and the premises are taken over by a greasy spoon, felt as if it was always in a rush to get the next plot turn in. Very large narrative details – such as the fact that Eleanor's father had committed suicide – went by in a blur, not satisfying in themselves but leaving just enough of a gloom behind them to dampen the joke that followed. And Brand seemed a little uncertain as to whether Eleanor was a prig due for a comeuppance or a figure of sympathy. They aren't mutually exclusive, of course, but you need a bit more time to marry the two qualities more successfully than Brand had here.

Sunshine Simon, about a south London loan shark faced with the unexpected reappearance of a frightening criminal associate (he escapes from a police van), was more successful because it worried less about plot than the establishment of character. It came across as an advertisement for a potential series, rather than a self-contained single – a promo-reel for a sharper, harsher Minder – with Tom Davis nicely understated as Simon, who looks like six-foot-six of imminent bodily harm but is actually inclined to turn the other cheek whenever possible. When his wife reminded him that Mad Micky, the escapee, had once stabbed him with a pizza knife, he was keen to underplay it: "That was just a bit of matey banter," he said. "A joke that got out of hand." I didn't quite believe the characters in Eleanor. I wanted to see more of these ones.

Anyone wanting to write about real people – whether they get 12 minutes or longer – would do well to watch People Like Us and pick up some tips about the vitality of ordinary speech. Some of it is flat-out funny, such as Karen's description of her partner's less than enthusiastic participation in a family night out ("He's got a face like a melted welly") or the mangled aphorism supplied by the mate of a club-night promoter ("It's that saying, in't it? 'Get rich or try dying'"). But there are also moments that blend pathos and comedy, as in the explanation that Paul's youngest daughter was kept in the dark about his stretch in Strangeways. "We told Madison that he was working for the Queen," said her mum. Madison bought it, but thought it was a bit odd that she had to be sniffed by a dog before visiting him.

And there are remarks that frame heartbreak as a rough-hewn poetry. "I'm crying all the time, me, lately," said Nicola's dad, an alcoholic who gulped down Lambrini as if it was mineral water. Then he said it again, broken into chunks for emphasis: "I'm crying. All the time. Lately." You rarely see such austere, self-consciously artificial ways of speaking in dramas about the dispossessed. The standard model is often a mannered inarticulacy. Which may be why so many dramas about the dispossessed lack life.

twitter.com/tds153

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor