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The Syndicate review – a triumphant return for the witty lottery drama

You know what you’re getting from a Kay Mellor drama, and The Syndicate (BBC One) is the writer/creator at her most Mellor-ish. Focusing on a different group of lottery-winners each series, the show has been plugging away for almost a decade, shifting its setting just enough to keep up with the times while sticking to its (cash-)winning formula. I find it irresistible, though I admit I’m a sucker for any drama that reaches its highest point of tension with an investigation into whether there is a specialist orthopaedic vet in Yorkshire’s east riding or not.

Despite opening in glamorous, sun-drenched Monaco, with a loud, excitable group of mates shouting “Not like Scarborough, is it!” out of the window of a minibus, the action soon skips back three days to the meat and potatoes of the story, back at home in West Yorkshire. This time, the syndicate is made up of co-workers at a friendly doggy daycare centre in Leeds, where the friends are all struggling with money.

Keeley (Katherine Rose Morley) is seemingly addicted to gambling apps and has no concept of what “high interest” means when it comes to taking out a payday loan. Nor, in fact, does she have much of a grasp on when payday is at all; she thinks she can settle her debts with her salary, but she’s out by a week, and when the most bailiff-like bailiff in TV history comes knocking for what he’s owed, it all looks as if her life’s about to come crumbling down. She is a caricature of youthful entitlement, appalled at the idea of buying a pizza from the supermarket and sticking it in the oven rather than treating herself to a takeaway, but naturally, she has a heart of gold.

Keeley’s co-workers at Woodvale Kennels have their own issues which will be explored in more depth in the future episodes dedicated to their characters, but there are sick nans, custody battles, pregnancy and loneliness all lined up, just waiting to yank on the heartstrings. This is The Syndicate, so big money is hovering overhead, about to drop down and transform their lives, but the moral of the story is usually more on the “be careful what you wish for” side than it is “making a fantasy shopping list” or “does that bathtub come in solid gold?”. When the windfall comes, it isn’t quite as straightforward as it first appears – it would be a dull six episodes if it came easily, was shared fairly and made them all happier and nicer people. At one point, the show turns into a crime caper, albeit a not-too-unpleasant one, which starts in Hull, where the worst thing anyone can really say about another person is, obviously: “Bastard!”

Its lightness of touch is part of its appeal, and it is a reliably quippy, witty show. While it is never too demanding, it is regularly satisfying. When the bailiff knocks on her door for the first time, Keeley’s mother (Corrie’s Kym Marsh) sends him packing. “I’ll be back,” he says. “Who are you, the Terminator?” she snaps back. Among the cartoonish moments are robust stories about zero-hours contracts and what it’s like to stretch a tenner out as far as it can possibly go, because skint really does mean skint. Mellor has always had a knack for spinning yarns about working-class lives that are not just rooted in tired “it’s grim up north” cliches. Here, the smaller, more personal stories tend to be more intriguing than the bigger, flashier one that holds it all together. Roxy (Taj Atwal) is nauseous in the mornings, and you can see where this is going, but her boyfriend – YouTuber and Strictly finalist Joe Sugg, giving a Yorkshire accent his all – is a dead-end musician allergic to responsibility. Whether she breaks up with him or not is almost as important as working out the gang’s claim to the £27m prize pot.

Then it all goes a bit Monaco. There are a few holes in the story – what kind of criminal mastermind not only takes their phone with them after faking their own death, but leaves their Find My Phone tracker on and cheerfully answers a call? – but this is a candlelit bath of a series, and it’s best not to overthink it. The Syndicate is a lovely fantasy, in which dreams come true, but not until a very large dog with hip problems has become a pivotal plot device. Like I said, I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. See you all in Hull.

www.theguardian.com

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