Monday, April 22, 2013

Unexpected riches

Nearly everyone has, at some point, purchased a lottery ticket, and spent some time daydreaming about what would happen if they happened to end up holding the winning ticket.  The BBC series The Syndicate: Series 1 takes a look at what happens when 5 grocery store workers pool their money to buy lottery tickets (forming a "syndicate") and end up as winners.

There are 5 episodes in the series, each following a different member of the syndicate.  We start out with nice guy Stuart.  Before winning, he is desperate for money.  He and his high maintenance girlfriend Amy live with his short-tempered, critical mother and his drug-dealing younger brother Jamie.  Amy and Stuart have one child and a baby on the way, and she finally gives Stuart an ultimatum:  get them their own place, or she's moving out (she makes no offer to get a job or contribute to this arrangement, however).  Stuart, frantic about losing her, goes to his boss at the supermarket, easygoing Bob, to ask for a raise.  Bob then informs him that the store has been sold and everyone who works there is going to be losing their jobs.  Desperate, Stuart agrees to a unwise plan proposed by Jamie about where they can get the money.  They go through with the plan, which turns out even worse the Stuart feared, and then end up winning the money the next day.  Amy gets her big new house, but Stuart is haunted by what he did before becoming a multi-millionaire.

The next episode follows the down-trodden cashier Denise.  Denise's husband Dave left her just days before the lottery win.  In addition to her supermarket job, she takes care of her elderly, disabled mother who lives with them, and has a soft spot for dogs.  She is devastated by Dave's departure, but determines to use her lottery winnings on a self-improvement plan, believing that if she's more attractive, Dave will come back.

Episode three concerns the kindly store manager, Bob.  Bob has been having some health problems, and gets some serious news while in the hospital.  He determines to make sure his winnings are used to benefit his family. He's long divorced from his first wife, a lounge singer.  He has two sons who are greedy and shiftless.  One is a solicitor who lives beyond his means and is constantly in need of money, and the other is a musician who has no firm plans for earning a living, even though his girlfriend is pregnant.  Then there is Bob's long-time live-in girlfriend, Annie, who has been waiting many years for a proposal.

In episode four, we finally discover what cashier Leanne is hiding.  After being confirmed as the winners, the lottery agency holds a press conference where the lucky workers are peppered with questions.  Leanne is far from forthcoming.  She is a single mother of a young daughter named Stacey.  She's extremely overprotective of Stacey, and becomes frantic when she hears her ex-husband has come around looking for her.  In the meantime, she's grown increasingly close to Stuart, causing a spiteful Amy to do something terrible.

Lastly, we learn more about Jamie, Stuart's little brother.  Jamie has been involved in a criminal lifestyle for many years and before the lottery win is in deep trouble with the local gangsters.  His need for money, combined with his streak for recklessness, causes him to do something terrible.  After the win, he embarks on a gangster lifestyle -- flashy cars, buying a strip club, and indulging in drugs.  However, his criminal associates have intentions of using his millions to finance more illegal drug deals.

I was really excited when I saw that there was a Series 2 of The Syndicate being shown on British TV right now, because I was eager to catch up on what happened to these characters later on.  However, it appears that the new series focuses on a new set of lottery winners.  I'm sure they all have as much drama before and after their win as did the former employees of Right Buy U in Leeds!  I really did enjoy this series.  It had a lot of dramatic twists and turns that I wasn't expecting and all the performances were really good.  I especially liked Timothy Spall as the sympathetic store manager Bob.  It's always enjoyable when he pops up in a show!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Syndicate: Series 1 from Acorn Media in exchange for this review

Final Verdict for The Syndicate: Series 1 Five Gherkins, for being a touching look at the tumultuous lives of lottery winners

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