Friday, 23 March 2012

Television reviews: 23 March

Some drama series take a while to seduce you, says Michael Moran. But The Syndicate is well worth the wait

Written by Michael Moran
Michael-Moran1I watch a lot of television. It's something of an occupational hazard. So when I saw that the BBC had scheduled an ensemble drama about a group of supermarket workers whose lives are transformed by a lottery win, I had a fair idea of what it might be like. Bit of Clocking Off; touch of Spend, Spend, Spend; maybe a soupçon of Fat Friends. Because The Syndicate (27 March, BBC One, 9pm) was written by hugely successful scriptwriter Kay Mellor, I was optimistic that it would be well crafted enough. I just didn't expect any great surprises.

Matthew McNulty's at the core of the show as Stuart, a solid, unambitious supermarket worker in thrall to his frankly ghastly wife. His already parlous finances are utterly torpedoed by the news that the supermarket he has worked for since he left school is closing down. Then, a couple of things happen that make this five-part drama a fearsome, twin-engined bomber of a show, with a payload of fascinating characters and breathtaking incident. If you get as far as the half-hour mark, I'm fairly sure you will stick with it for the rest of the series.

And there's no reason you wouldn't be charmed by the story from the outset. It opens with a delightfully naturalistic domestic argument, offers up timeless aphorisms such as 'She thinks because she's a dinner lady she knows everything', and thrills the fashionistas among us with the most hilariously oversized hoop earrings this side of the Large Hadron Collider. It's a show so confident of its own quality that Timothy Spall, probably the bestknown actor in the cast, is held in reserve for much of the running time. I really enjoyed The Syndicate. It's at once believable and quite unpredictable, and that's a rare combination.

I watch a lot of TV, but one thing I haven't seen yet is the Series 5 opener of Mad Men, which still hadn't aired in the US at the time of going to press. It premieres here on Sky Atlantic this Tuesday (27 March) and will air on the BBC  later in the year. From the trailers that have been shown so far, expect sharp suits, lovely frocks, strong drinks, and Don Draper kissing anything that moves. Business as usual, then. The other historical escapade on our TVs this week is of course Titanic (25 March, ITV1, 9pm). There's some clunky exposition work in the opening episode, and some implausible daftness involving a feisty suffragette with some distinctly modern sensibilities, but you simply can't beat Julian Fellowes when it comes to big hats and corsets.

The 'thing we are all expecting to happen' happens in episode one, and each episode will tell the overlapping stories of multiple characters as they sail blindly to their appointment with that iceberg. Titanic is more than a bit silly, but as a Sunday-night diversion, it's better than most. I should know... I watch a lot of TV.

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