The Syndicate

Series 1

 

The Syndicate: Series 1

Created & Written by Kay Mellor

Cinematography by David Odd BSC

Production Design by Gilly Slight

Music by Hal Lindes

Edited by Kane Williams

Executive Producer: Polly Hill

Directed by Syd Macartney & Kay Mellor

First Aired on BBC One, March 2012

 

Featuring:

Timothy Spall

Lorraine Bruce

Matthew McNulty

Matthew Lewis

Joanna Page

Judy Parfitt

Amy Beth Hayes

Katherine Dow Blyton

Lorraine Ashbourne

John Paul Hurley

  

Production Studio:

Television: Rollem Productions

Video: ITV Studios Global via Acorn Media

 

Video

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 480i

Codec: MPEG-2

Disc Size: DVD x 2

Bit Rate: Mod (ca. 5.5 Mbps)

Runtime: 270 minutes

5 Episodes

Region: 1

 

Audio:

English Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Subtitles:

Optional English SDH

 

Bonus Features:

None

 

Presentation:

DVD Clamshell Case: DVD x 2

Street Date: April 30, 2013



Overview [Acorn]

In a single life-changing moment, five cash-strapped supermarket employees become unlikely millionaires when their lottery pool wins big. It seems like a godsend, but the syndicate soon learns that good fortune has a price. This taut British drama follows each character in turn as they deal with guilt, health crises, the past, and troubled relationships. But money can't solve all life's problems, and soon Bob and his co-syndicate members realize the consequences of getting exactly what you wanted aren't always golden.  Mature audiences.


     

  

Critical Press

Metro/UK  The Syndicate (BBC1) certainly isn’t Mad Men and it isn’t Inside Men (to which it bears passing resemblance), it’s more Anxious Men (and some Long-Suffering Women). This tale of a supermarket workers striking it rich with a massive Lottery jackpot is over-egged on the dramatic irony front – the win comes on the same night two Anxious Men try to rob their own store – but with a winning performance from Matthew McNulty as an honest lad pushed over the edge by financial pressure, it’s right on the money as a sign of our austere times. Of course we shouldn’t compare the two ad infinitum simply because they were on in the same slot, but it’s true that the renewed presence of the slick, stylised Mad Men only serves to emphasise the relative shoddiness of our native efforts. ‘Original British drama’, the trailer (below) boasted ahead of its launch and by British standards, this really was a treat – funny, bittersweet and reassuringly scruffy. Very British, in many ways.

     

The Series: 8

Back in the days of American television’s “Golden Era” there was a series called The Millionaire that told the stories in 30-minute episodes of the fates of a different person each week who received a check for $1,000,000. Their benefactor was one John Beresford Tipton, whom, as I remember it, we never see exactly. He just wanted to play God in his way. Each episode began with Tipford handing a check to Michael Anthony (Marvin Miller) who would chronicle the reactions of Tipton’s victims. It’s amazing that the show could find enough material to fill 206 episodes beyond the cliches of the purchase of expensive toys and long lost relatives suddenly discovering a fondness for the new millionaire. In one remarkable episode, the recipient was a drunk who ends up buying a drink with the check.


   


This new series, created and written by Kay Mellor, has updated the idea (more likely, the inspiration here seems to be Hugo “Hurley” Reyes) by substituting The Lottery for Tipton and extending the half-hour story about one millionaire to a six-hour series about five lucky - or not so lucky - people with interlocking drama. Denise (Lorraine Bruce), Leanne (Joanna Page), Bob (Timothy Spall) and the brothers Jamie and Stuart (Matthew Lewis and Matthew McNulty) are co-workers at a convenience store in Leeds, West Yorkshire. They have entered into a “syndicate” to win the lottery.


     


Each of the series’ five episodes centers around one of the main characters, much as does Lost, while we get to know the others gradually as the plot moves along in a rapid pace. Bob is the store manager. He’s a divorcee with two grown boys, living with his girlfriend for years but has never fully committed himself. Denise is seriously overweight. She is married, but comes home one night to find her husband has left her,, and takes on the burden of responsibility for that without reservation. Leanne has a young daughter and is evidently in hiding from the girl’s father.


     


Stuart is the only one desperate for money, and it on his fortunes, that much of the drama that ensues plays out: He has one child with his girlfriend, Amy (Amy Beth Hayes ), now eight months pregnant, and has finally given up living with Stuart, along with Jamie and their antagonizing mom. Amy demands Stuart find a place for her and the kid(s). Stuart is so hard-up for cash he has been unable to make the last several weekly payments for his part of the syndicate. He is the very picture of an Anxiety Disorder in full bloom.


    


Brother Jamie - played by Matthew Lewis, whom Americans will know as Neville Longbottom - a sociopath with a police record, has a solution: to hold up their store just as it closes on the day the lottery is drawn so as to maximize their take. Reluctantly, Stuart goes along with the plan. The videocamera captures most of the robbery as Jamie really gets into his part, not least when Bob returns unexpectedly and Jamie whacks him on the head sending him to hospital in critical condition. Later that night the group learns that they’ve won £18,000,000 in the lottery - that’s about US$28,000,000! End of first episode.


     


Video: 8/6

I don’t think that the transfer has any problems, but the photography strikes me as wrong-headed and makes for a frustrating viewing experience. I refer to the practice of placing the focus beyond the point of interest coupled with a narrow depth of field, presumably to soft-focus the face. I assume this done so that high definition cameras and displays will not show the actors in an unflattering light. Whatever the reason, it drives me crazy to find a shoulder in focus but not the eyes. It may just be the traditional photographer in me since I don’t see the public getting up in arms about this. Unfortunately there are more than a handful of frames where there is nothing in focus. Beyond this nagging concern, there are scenes that are overexposed for no reason I can see and others where the highs are blown out. Color is acceptable, if occasionally heightened with a touch of pastel filtering. It looks like Acorn is not at fault here. Noise is minimal and transfer artifacts are not problematic.


     

 

Audio & Music: 8/7

The audio comes off much better than the image. Dialogue is clear, though because of the Yorkshire accents, you might find the subtitles handy, especially for Jamie. Ambient and environmental sounds are well balanced and is the music. There’s a whacking good bang as Bob wakes from a nightmare that is decently executed, considering the Dolby Digital mix.

 

Bonus: 0

Nothing, unless you count a brief text preview of each episode.


     

 

Recommendation: 8

The Syndicate is currently halfway through its second season in the UK and has not yet, as far as I know, been shown on U.S. television by any of the usual suspects, which makes this new Acorn DVD release that much more welcome. There is, by the way, news of a pilot being given the go ahead for an American version of the show, which should translate every bit as well as The Office, I should think. Meantime, there is the Acorn. Given this company’s track record in recent years I surmise that the PQ anomalies I see in the video are as promoted by Rollem Productions and ITV Studios Global. There are no bonus features, but the show itself more than makes up for their absence.  


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

April 26, 2013


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