This British TV drama about lottery winners gets off to a shaky start until we get to know the downtrodden characters. While they initially seem completely unrelatable and unappealing, they all gain some depth over the course of the five-episode series. The creators structure the series in such a way that each episode focuses on one primary character, while also mostly avoiding retreading ground already covered in previous episodes. That leaves us with one consistent and progressing plot, but five different aspects of the story, a winning approach that is a perfect match for the material.
When five lowly convenience store employees win the lottery, their lives all change in different ways. As the show opens, we meet the store manager, a kindly old man named Bob on the brink of retirement. His employees are Stuart, a desperate but good-hearted young man with a girlfriend and kids to support, Stuart’s scumbag brother Jamie, a secretive young lady named Leanne, and obese and clueless Denise. Not exactly the cream of the UK crop, and the screenwriters drive that point home by ensuring all the characters speak in lower class dialect (like saying “me mam” instead of “my mother”) and live in shoddy homes. In fact, things have become so desperate for Jamie and Stuart that they foolishly plan and carry out a staged robbery of their store resulting in serious injury to Bob mere hours before learning they’ve won the lottery.
Throughout the series, we explore the dynamics of all of the characters, learning among other things that Bob has a supposedly inoperable brain tumor threatening to end his life within months, Leanne has a dark secret in her past that she has been attempting to conceal by living under the radar, Stuart is burdened with a terrible girlfriend but fancies someone else, and Denise is struggling with how far she will go to keep her unloving husband. The only character who doesn’t really gain any sympathy is Jamie. He starts and ends as a jerk, with large helpings of boorish behavior in between.
There are no outstanding performances in the group, with Timothy Spall’s wise and forgiving Bob contributing the best work of the ensemble. Matthew McNulty (Stuart) unfortunately spends most of the series with a hopelessly confused and stressed-out expression on his face, a far cry from his cool guy work in Misfits. Matthew Lewis is convincing as Jamie, although easing into the trappings of riches a bit too easily to maintain his cred as a lower-class oaf. Joanna Page’s Leanne has the most touching material to work with as the overweight, unloved girl, but doesn’t wring much out of it. Lorraine Bruce has the most enigmatic character as Leanne, but even after exposing her character’s secret and shedding a few tears she’s still largely a cipher at the conclusion. While the writing grows in efficacy over the course of the series, the actors don’t do much to drive it home.
The Syndicate Series 1 is available on DVD on Tuesday, April 30th. There are no bonus features. Also, don’t let that Series 1 designation confuse you: this story is completely wrapped up at the end, while Series 2 (currently concluding its broadcast run in the UK) follows a new group of lottery winners.