At this point I feel like a broken record, but once again, I have to give huge praise to the British approach to TV, specifically the often-short episode count per series. "The Syndicate," a 2012 production is a shining example of a concept that even on paper has little staying power proving to be, in the end, a minor success thanks to a series one episode count of five, 52-minute installments. Had I bothered to look at the previous works of the series creator, Kay Mellor's background, her work on "Coronation Street," a long running British soap opera would have allowed me to better prepare for this new series that tries its best to be thrilling, compelling television, but is unable to shake the structure of saccharine melodrama. The concept is little more than a group of working class shop employees win an £18,000,000 lottery jackpot and naturally, drama follows.
The series structures each episode around individual members of the syndicate, but due to the way the characters lives are tightly interwoven following the initial episode, character arcs (to be more honest, story arcs is a better phrase as a few characters are exaggerated caricatures) advance in turn. The series never truly recovers from the intense pacing and set-up though, which follows Stuart Bradley (Matthew McNulty) one part of the lottery syndicate and brother to Jamie Bradley (Matthew Lewis, "Harry Potter's" very own Neville Longbottom) a fellow co-worker and syndicate member. The winning of the lottery quickly becomes a catalyst for events set into motion; we learn from moment one our characters won the lottery but two members are missing for reasons unknown and Stuart's episode fills us in on the details which include no less than a birth, multiple strained relationships, the possibility of unemployment, an armed robbery and assault on syndicate member Bob Davies (the underrated and thankfully, well-utilized Timothy Spall).
The remaining four episodes focus on, in no particular order, Bob, Jamie, Leanne (Joanna Page), and Denise's (Lorraine Bruce) stories, with the whole affair quickly devolving to soap-opera level plot twists and characterizations in the final act of Denise's episode that is the most self-contained of all the series. By the time we reach Bob's tale and even more preposterous developments arise, it's incredibly clear that "The Syndicate" is disposable television with very little to say to viewers. It's by the sheer mercy of the series' brief episode run that things are wrapped up in a nice package without any truly stellar examples of writing in the series; despite this, we the viewer feel adequately entertained by performances that at worse are competent caricatures (Denise, Jamie, and Leanne) and at best, attempts by the actors to elevate nonsense (namely Bob and Stuart who get the only true discernable character arcs in the series).
"The Syndicate" seems to have been a notable hit in the UK, earning a second series that focuses on a new group of winners at a hospital and shockingly, slightly higher viewer counts per episode. Unsurprisingly, the series is set for a US adaptation on ABC titled "Lucky 7." I honestly shudder at the thought of the concept being expanded to even 13-episodes, let alone the 20-plus count you might expect from a network show. "The Syndicate" doesn't have enough time to wear out its welcome before it's all over and is best remembered as a pleasant diversion (you can get through the whole series in one short afternoon); whether you'll want to give the second series a try is entirely dependent on how much you enjoy earnestly acted, empty television.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer sports a cool, muted color palette. Compression artifacts are non-existent, as are other digital hiccups, apart from a moderately detailed image that has a few signs of minor DNR.
The Dolby Digital English stereo audio is nothing that impressive. Dialogue is a bit muted at times and with a few thick accents can be a bit of annoyance. The overall level of the mix could be stronger, even when it comes to the underlying score of the series. Thankfully English SDH subtitles are present to ensure no lines of dialogue are lost.
"The Syndicate" ends up offering nothing of true value to viewers apart from earnest performances and one melodramatic plot twist after the other, but its short runtime, and generally tightly packed pace make it a pleasant diversion, at least for one series. Recommended.