Last night's viewing - The Syndicate, BBC1; Horizon: Global Weirding, BBC2
What are the odds, eh? On one night, financial desperation persuades you to rob your own workplace, leaving a much-loved manager in intensive care, and then just hours later, you learn that you've scooped a massive win on the lottery and all that guilt and anxiety could have been avoided. Bit of a stretch? Then again, the odds on somebody winning the lottery are very good, indeed. It happens once a week, give or take a rollover now and then. So perhaps we can give Kay Mellor the long-shot coincidence that provides the stay cable for her new drama series, The Syndicate, one of those voguish ensemble affairs in which each episode concentrates on a particular character. You can barely hold your head up as a commissioning editor these days if you haven't got one in the schedules somewhere, and you're quids in if it also taps into cash-strapped Britain.
Stuart needs money badly. He's first seen at home, credit problems having forced him and his wife Amy to move back in with Stuart's mother. The Jeremy Kyle Show is playing on the television and offering a model of calm and rational debate by contrast with the screaming match going on between Amy and her mother-in-law. And when he gets to work his day gets worse, with the revelation that the supermarket where he works has been bought up by a larger chain and he may not have his job for long. Stuart isn't the only one who's desperate either. Bob, the avuncular manager, is on chemo and heaving into the staff toilet, single mother Leanne is getting pleading requests to go to Disneyland from her young daughter and Jamie (Stuart's feckless brother) is nursing a bad cocaine habit. Only Denise is relatively cheerful, but that's because Denise hasn't yet noticed the open look of loathing her husband is giving her.
"Nuffink can go wrong," says Jamie, as he proposes an inside job that will solve Stuart's problems, but of course sumfink always does. So, as the syndicate members absorb the news of their £18m win, Stuart and his brother are also dealing with the terrifyingly dour DCI Newall. And as popular drama goes, it isn't bad, that dual plot-line trapping the characters in an intractable spot. What prevents it from being more than popular drama is that most of Mellor's energies appear to go into the further contrivance of plot, rather than greater detail of character. The lines have a directness that subtitle the paradoxes of sudden fortune, as when Jamie exultantly tells Stuart to stop worrying about the police investigation: "We're millionaires! Nobody can touch us now." You feel too that the characters behave in ways that will make the plot run smoothly, rather than in ways that are entirely plausible. Leanne, for example, clearly has some urgent reason for not wanting to be found by the father of her child, and yet she doesn't simply refuse to take part in the press call for the big win, which pretty much guarantees that he'll be turning up on the doorstep in time for her solo.
Horizon: Global Weirding was about the lottery of the weather, a dynamic system in which the odds seem to be getting harder to calculate with every passing year. Global warming appears to have triggered an instability in fluid mechanics of the atmosphere, leading to a rash of extremes. In Texas, for example, an unprecedented drought was preceded by record-breaking rainfall, and it seems likely that other destructive maxima are coming our way. "The dice are now being loaded," said a climate scientist encouragingly, warning that our chances of a bad throw had increased considerably. To ease your mind, the producers accompanied the film with an almost unbroken soundtrack of the kind of apocalyptic techno music that science fiction films use to tell you Something Really Bad Is Coming.
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