We’ve all had one of those nights, maybe in Wahoo, or Parkend or even for those of you with more questionable standards, next to a kebab van, where you make an acquaintance, have a predictable (often slurred) conversation and maybe even swap numbers. But what if you wrote your number down? And what if the piece of paper you wrote it on was worth £72 million?
This is one of the many dilemmas which Rose, Alan, Becky, Mandy and Tom have to face in the first instalment of BBC One’s The Syndicate. Kay Mellor’s creation has returned for a second series with a brand new syndicate comprising staff from St. Anthony’s Hospital. This isn’t just any old syndicate though, with the likes of Alison Steadman (Gavin and Stacey, Fat Friends), Mark Addy (Game of Thrones, The Full Monty) and Siobhan Finneran (aka O’Brien from Downton Abbey) making this a quality cast with clout.
As usual, Mellor doesn’t scrimp on character development and the first episode of this series plunges us into the lives of the lucky five, hinting all the while that things are not quite as rosy as they look. Alan is a weed-growing, ex-alcoholic, Becky has a young daughter and too many expenses, and Becky’s mum Mandy, whilst the happiest NHS worker on record, has an abusive husband making her marriage miserable.
What sets The Syndicate apart from other BBC drama is quite simply the writing. Mellor’s ability to take everyday people, make them convincing, make them interesting, and spin them together in such a way that within the space of an hour the audience are repeatedly and alternately laughing and crying is what really makes this programme the fantastic watch that it is. Don’t be fooled, this isn’t just a snapshot of everyday life. Everyone knows someone like ‘Fat Freda’ who works in the shop, and a laugh will be secured every time, but beyond this there are real questions being asked, like how much would your life really change? Is it fair to give bitter Helen a share in the winnings even though she left the syndicate? Would you still turn up for work the next day? And this is just the first episode!
In a similar way to the last series of The Syndicate, each week focuses on an individual from the group, with the second episode centring around Tom Bedford, who despite winning the lottery has still not got what he desires most: a baby. To complicate matters, Tom doesn’t know the whereabouts of his real father, who walked out on his mother and him when he was ten, and to make things worse, Tom’s closest friends get an attack of the green-eyed monster which reaches boiling point in the local pub. Amongst all of this, some of the gaps start to get filled in from the first episode, with scenes which will question any previous sympathy we might have had for bitter Helen and contain more hints of the extent of Mandy’s violent marriage to Steve.
At just two episodes in, if you’re not already following The Syndicate it’s well worth catching up. The stage is set but there’s a lot more to come from Mellor’s latest set of winners for whom money certainly isn’t solving everything. I know I won’t be missing a minute…
The Syndicate is on BBC One, Tuesdays, 9pm.