Five co-workers at the local convenience store have formed a Syndicate, which apparently is a British colloquialism for a group of people who all chip in money toward a lottery ticket. When the group wins, and each collect nearly 4 million pounds, it understandably changes each of their lives in various ways. Each member of the syndicate is forced to come to terms with the burdens of wealth, in addition to the realization that money can’t help them escape their past demons.
I don’t watch a lot of British drama (I tend to prefer comedy and science fiction), but this first series of Syndicate is exceptionally good. Although, if you sometimes find it difficult to understand the British accent, then this show will be challenging. The characters here are all Welsh, which is a muddy, ugly accent where all the consonants run together or get spontaneously swapped out for others. It can be hard to adjust to if you don’t watch a lot of British television.
Each episode features a different member of the Syndicate, jumping around in time to show events from various points of view in different episodes, and unfolding the timeline in usually significant ways. Sometimes, a repeated scene contributes nothing to the new character’s perspective, but rather just serves as a reminder of something that has happened. I tend to hate devices like this because I feel like the producers of the show are holding their audience in contempt.
The ensemble cast is strong too. Brothers Stuart and Jamie (Matthew McNulty and Matthew Lewis respectively) seem to be most at the center of the events of the series, but like I said, each episode has its own main character with the others filling supporting or even cameo roles. Audiences will definitely recognize Matthew Lewis as Neville from the Harry Potter films even though Jamie is a much more confident character. Jamie is also a lot taller and more handsome than Neville, which makes me wonder if they used trick photography after Harry Potter 4 to make Lewis seem tiny. The Jamie character is easily the most intriguing of the group. He tends to associate with disreputable people, and each episode reveals a new vice for the character. Being rich only exacerbates his character flaws, and it ends up giving him the most interesting arc of any character on the show.
The two female members of the Syndicate, Leanne and Denise (Joanna Page and Lorraine Bruce respectively) both have really interesting storylines too. Denise is overweight with rotten teeth, thick glasses, and frizzy hair, but has always been okay with her looks until her husband leaves her, so she decides to clean herself up in order to win him back. It’s a basic human want, and it serves to ground her and the rest of the show in a basic level of realism. Viewers might recognize Joanna Page from Love, Actually as the stand-in for an actress doing a sex scene along with Martin Freeman. Her character her is great because while it’s clear she has something to hide from early in the series, it’s nearly impossible to figure out where her storyline is going to go. It provides the show with a nice unpredictability.
Finally, there’s Bob, played by Timothy Spall, who goes from the weasel-like villain Wormtail in the Harry Potter films to embodying the emotional core of The Syndicate. Bob is an endlessly likeable and charismatic character who cares deeply for everyone around him, even when he knows they’ve done something to betray him. He has a superhuman capacity for compassion and forgiveness, which could be fueled by his recent health problems, which begin to arise as the series begins.
The one thing that annoys me about the series probably couldn’t have been avoided. When a story about a group of people winning the lottery pops into your head, the first idea for how that might be problematic might be that everyone they’ve ever known will find out you’re wealthy, and come out of the woodwork to try and get a piece of their winnings. This happens way too much in this series. I think that some level of greed-driven manipulation is obligatory, but it seems like every character has to deal with this, and it gets too repetitive as a dramatic device.
No special features. Available on DVD from Acorn Media on April 30.