It’s time to look back at another week in TV land which offered up a mixed bag of treats.
We start with the third series of a drama that is so formulaic that I sort of knew the direction it would take before the episode even began. In the new series of Kay Mellor’s lottery saga The Syndicate the action moves to a stately home where the dwindling staff members sporadically pool together to play the lottery. Their win occurs after Godfrey, the autistic gardener at Hazelwood Manor implores his colleagues to play three lines on that night’s lottery. His reasoning is that he’s worked out a fool-proof formula which we lead them to scoop the jackpot. Unfortunately, the Manor’s cleaner Dawn misplaces Godfrey’s numbers and instead makes them up a process that later proves to be fruitful. I feel that it was quite irritating that Mellor left us hanging until the end of episode one to witness the group’s discovery of their win as it was something we all knew was coming. One thing I do like about this series of The Syndicate is that the five players aren’t a disparate group of workmates and instead have formed a little family at the Manor. Alongside Godfrey and Dawn we also have long-standing cook Julie, her housekeeper daughter Sarah and the Manor’s handyman Sean all of whom are fearful that their jobs may soon be at risk. This is because Hazelwood Manor is haemorrhaging money which is primarily due to the reckless habits of Lord Hazelwood’s odious stepson Spencer. It’s Spencer who floats the idea that Hazelwood be sold to a group of awful Americans who want to turn into a golf course. However the kind and proud Lord Hazelwood is having none of it and it appears that the staff may now buy into the home with their lottery winnings. The jubilant mood following the lottery win is short-lived when it’s discovered that Dawn’s daughter Amy has gone missing. It appears that this storyline will play throughout the rest of the series with both Spencer and Godfrey seemingly the key suspects in Amy’s disappearance.
Although there’s been individual elements of the past two series of The Syndicate that I’ve enjoyed I’ve found it hard to buy either series as a whole. That’s because Mellor’s past series have included nonsensical storylines such as a stolen daughter, an affair with a transsexual and a husband being locked up in the basement. Thankfully series three of The Syndicate doesn’t look like it will be going that way and instead it appears as if Mellor has crafted characters that are both likeable and realistic. Mellor has also succeeded in creating and us and them divide between the staff and the snooty Lady Hazelwood who thinks her husbands treats his subordinates too well. Regular TV faces Melanie Hill and Elizabeth Berrington were given time to shine as Julie and Dawn respectively. Berrington was particularly strong as the late-in-life mum who had to contend with a stroppy daughter and the fact that she was pregnant once again. Relative newcomers Cara Theobold and Richard Rankin were also reliable as strong-willed Sarah and dependable Sean. However it was Lenny Henry who was the big revelation here as Godfrey the gardener as he perfectly portrayed an adult living with Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s clear that Henry has researched the role and the results were fantastic especially when I forgot who it was that I was watching on screen. In fact it was Henry’s compelling turn as the fractured Godfrey which put this series of The Syndicate above both of its prior incarnations and Mellor’s recent pregnancy debacle In the Club. Whether this first episode was just a fluke and The Syndicate soon descends into cliché remains to be seen but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with what the opener of series three of The Syndicate delivered.
Channel 4 also offered up a returning show in the form of Man Down which came back for a second full run following two Christmas Specials. Despite the presence of writer and star Greg Davies, Man Down was best known for containing Rik Mayall’s final TV appearance before his untimely death last year. This second series sees Mayall being replaced by Stephanie Cole who plays the aunt to Davies’ hapless protagonist and rubbish teacher Dan. The first episode of series two sees Dan attempt to better himself in order to attract the attentions of Miss Lipsey. However, a number of encounters lead him to snag a date with the much younger Lottie. Like most of what happens in Man Down, Dan’s date is a catalogue of disasters as he attempts to act young by donning a pair of jeans and an ill-fitting Shed Seven T-Shirt. As the audience have been informed earlier in the show that Dan has a bladder problem his constant dancing in a club leads up to one fairly predictable gag. Man Down is one of the shows that just doesn’t hang together very well despite some of the segments being very funny. My personal highlights involved the star of the show; Dan’s friend Brian played in a dead-pan fashion by Mike Wozniak. Brian’s discovery that he’s descended from bin men leads him to hook up with a group of waste disposal experts who he takes to his heart a little too much. However for every funny Brian sequence there’s a scene involving Roisin Conaty’s annoying acquaintance Jo. Conaty is quite a bad actress at the best of times and I don’t feel there’s much difference between her performance here and her appearances on Mock the Week. If anything Man Down is the successor to Peep Show as it features a neurotic guy blagging his way through life with various disastrous consequences. However I don’t feel that Davies’ series has the same wit or charm that Mitchell and Webb’s sitcom has. Therefore, despite Man Down not being as haphazard as Dan’s love life, it’s not nearly as funny as it should be which I feel is a damn shame.
However compared to the other sitcom that returned this week, Man Down is this year’s Blackadder in comparison. Why anybody thought to recommission Vicious in the first place is beyond me but I’m more surprised that the Americans have rather taken this camp comedy to their hearts. Maybe there’s more of a love for this old-fashioned 1970s comedy in the land that brought us such brilliant shows as 30 Rock, Veep and Modern Family. However over in the UK we’re lacking great TV comedy at the best of times therefore populating the airwaves with this kind of tripe is detrimental to the British sitcom industry as a whole. My theory is that Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi are so respected at this point that they can get away with what they want and still have fine careers. The plot, if there is one, sees McKellen and Jacobi’s Freddie and Stuart playing house in order to impress the sister of their best friend Violet. Their plot is to convince Violet’s sister that she’s doing well by having Stuart play her husband whilst Freddie portrays their butler. As you would expect the central couple’s reversal or roles sees Stuart exploit Freddie’s temporary position in order to point out all of the things that he has to do on a daily basis. The oddest thing about watching Vicious now is seeing Iwan Rheon as dopey neighbour Ash as I now associate him more with the sadistic Ramsay Snow in Game of Thrones. Ash’s plot, in which he tries to get his girlfriend to move in with him, is thwarted when Violet tries to pass him off as her son. I do enjoy a good farce and felt that most episodes of Not Going Out ended up with Lee Mack getting himself into situations similar to those in this episode of Vicious. However Not Going Out had a certain charm to it that Vicious lacks and instead the barbs that the characters trade feel cold rather than loving. For some reason three million people tuned in to watch the return of Vicious however I’m hoping this viewing number dwindles throughout the series as I can’t imagine a world in which this rubbish comedy gets a third series.
ITV also debuted a new show this week in the form of Big Box, Little Box which to me felt like what would happen if the stars of Gogglebox took over QVC. The concept of the programme is that a number of different households will road test several products over the course of a week and rate their usefulness. Possibly the most featured product throughout the course of the episode was the bluetooth glove which allows people the chance to answer the phone without rifling through their pockets. Unfortunately the fact that people have to make the phone signal while talking to their hand attracts bemused gazes which was evident when the dad of one family road tested the product whilst out shopping. Another of the products that looked fairly useful was the slippers which could be used to sweep the floor which the stereotypical old posh couple couldn’t help but fine charming. The problem I found with Big Box Little Box was that the participants seemed primarily to be very similar to the Gogglebox pairings. Therefore we had the aforementioned old posh couple, two vivacious black women, a few nuclear families and a quartet of lads who share a house together. The main difference between the two shows is that we can relate to a bunch of people watching the telly however I personally felt isolated from the groups that were testing the gadgets. It did feel to me that ITV wanted a show to showcase plenty of products and I feel they were paid a pretty penny by the manufacturers. This does work in some cases and I have to admit that I quite fancy that Japanese grill that appeared to be a hit with all of the households. At the same time I think that the makers of that bluetooth glove might be a little worried after seeing the first episode. Ultimately I think that Big Box, Little Box was a good idea however the execution makes it come off as a little bit of a rip-off of Channel 4′s brilliant TV watching show.
It’s an ITV triple bill this week and to end us off I have to address the controversy surrounding this year’s Britain’s Got Talent final. By that I don’t mean the fact that Stavros Flately were denied the opportunity to dance with Michael Flately but rather the hullabaloo surrounding eventual winner Jules O’Dwyer. As it was the most watched programme of the year so far, most people will probably know that Jules’ dog Matisse was not the one who did the tightrope walk during their final performance. I personally don’t feel that that mattered all that much as the fact that this woman was able to train a dog to walk a tightrope is a feat in and of itself. I honestly don’t have any sympathy for anybody who made their decision on the winner based on a part of the act and I think that she was a worthy winner. That being said my personal favourite was the little girl doing the martial arts primarily as it was an enthralling act and the fact that a nine-year-old was able to command an audience that way was simply fantastic. I was also pleased that variety seems to be winning over the stereotypical singing and dancing acts who Simon Cowell likes to promote every year. This was evidenced in both Jules’ win and the fact that talented magician Jamie Raven came in second place. I have to say I was surprised that the Welsh choir came in third and more surprised to learn that they almost lost out to the brilliant Old Men Grooving. What I will say about the final week as a whole is that it has been entertaining for the most part as each instalment has offered up something different. Although I was a little annoyed that Lorraine Newman the crumble lady didn’t make it all the way, I still feel that Britain’s Got Talent is a great show as it doesn’t outstay its welcome and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Cowell’s other baby The X-Factor which returns to our screen for another run in the very near future.
Next Time: The Interceptor, TFI Friday and The Tribe.