Matt on the Box: This Week’s TV Highlights: The Syndicate, In the Flesh, Youngers and It’s Kevin

by | Mar 23, 2013 | All, Reviews

Hello folks and welcome to another week in the world of TV.

We start this week with the return of one of last year’s biggest drama successes – The Syndicate. Kay Mellor’s series saw five supermarket employees win the lottery, however they discovered that money doesn’t necessarily buy you happiness. This second series deals with a whole bunch of new characters who are all part of a syndicate in a Bradford Hospital. Once again every episode focuses on one character in turn and in this opening instalment we met junior nurse Becky (Natalie Gavin). Becky basically got her position in the hospital thanks to her nurse mother Mandy (Siobhan Finneran) who wanted to give Becky some structure in her life. That is because Becky has a young daughter, Reah, who she gave birth to aged 17 and therefore had to grow up too soon. It is Becky who is tasked with buying the winning lottery ticket something she is hesitant about doing as she’s sure she’ll get it wrong. Though she does purchase the ticket successfully it goes missing sometime before the syndicate find out they’ve won so this episode flashes back to see what actually happened to the ticket. We see Becky attend a 1980s night at the university where she bumps into aspiring rugby player Luke (Karl Davies) and, not wanting to never see him again, writes her number on the back of the lottery ticket. Eventually she realises what she’s done and heads over to the rugby club with the rest of the syndicate but when arriving at the club she discovers that he actually works in the cafe. Becky finally retrieves the ticket however the group face another issue when former syndicate member Helen (Sally Rogers) claims that she should get a cut of the money too. However Helen’s claim is rejected by the rest of the syndicate member and by the lottery official who takes the form of series one character Denise (Lorraine Bruce).

The Syndicate essentially follows an easy formula in which emotionally damaged people win money and then try to enjoy their lives more. Episode One introduces us to all of the characters’ problem for example Mandy who crushes up pills and puts them into her husband’s beer in order to sedate his violent behaviour. There is also recovering alcoholic porter Alan (Mark Addy), overweight hospital cleaner Rose (Alison Steadman) and nurse Tom (Jimi Mistry) who is trying to have a baby with his partner. I have to say I think this series of The Syndicate is off to a good start, thanks in part to the fabulous ensemble cast who are a cut above their predecessors. As Becky, Natalie Gavin really excels as this young girl forced to face up to her  responsibilities while at the same time still trying to be young. Meanwhile Siobhan Finneran is outstanding as mousy Mandy who is visibly scared of her violent husband and goes out of her way to sedate him. The fact that I knew what was going to happen next didn’t really bother me all that much and instead I lost myself in the characters. The acting on the whole was great and the hour passed surprisingly quickly as I found myself entertained throughout. While The Syndicate may not be the most original programme on TV this year there’s no denying that it’s a sweet-natured character-led drama and there’s really nothing wrong with that.

A programme that isn’t particularly sweet-natured is BBC3’s zombie drama In the Flesh. The show is set in a dystopian future in which zombies have battled humans in an event known as ‘the rising.’ Since then things have gone back to normal and the zombies are now being reintegrated back into society. They have also lost the name zombies and are now being referred to as sufferers of Partially Deceased Syndrome. One of these PDS sufferers is Kieren (Luke Newberry) who is about to be released back to his family. In preparation of this release Luke is given contact lenses and flesh coloured make-up to make himself blend in with the humans. However this will be easier said than done in his hometown of Roarton a community that still has a Human Defence League which was set up during the rising. The members there aren’t happy about the reintegration especially Vicar Oddie (Kenneth Cranham) who instructs HDL member Bill Macy (Steve Evetts) to hunt down any PDS sufferers he finds. Keiren’s other issue is that his sister Jem (Harriet Cains) is also a member of the HDL and refuses to accept that her brother is being brought home. Kieren later learns about a group set up by zombies who aren’t happy with the reintegration calling themselves the Undead Liberation Army. Though their presence is only talked about in this episode I’m guessing the show will climax with a war between themselves and The Human Defence League.

Like Being Human and The Fades before it, In the Flesh survives thanks to its subversion of the horror genre. In the case of In the Flesh the zombie drama is turned on its head by having the zombies become the sympathetic protagonists while the humans are the real monsters. Kieren and his fellow PDS sufferers are just trying to reconnect with their families however the members of the Roarton HDL are less than happy about them doing this. Despite the nature of the drama, Dominic Mitchell is still able to make Kieren a fairly relatable character and by the end of the episode I really felt for all of the problems he had to face. I thought in particular Kieren’s relationship with Jem was well-handled as the two finally reunited over shared memories. What I liked about In the Flesh was that it wasn’t incredibly violent leaving the really graphic scenes to open and close the episode. Instead most of the violence was implied by the characters when they discussed what happened during the rising. Mitchell is also able to bring some comedy into the mix including a very satirical scene in the church where a smarmy MP is attempting to explain the reintegration scheme to the baying Roarton congregation. I personally enjoyed some more of the subtle gags such as when we see Kieren and his father indulging in a game of The Game of Life. Luke Newberry is great in the lead role of Kieren as he is able to convey the emotions of a very complex character. Gemma Cains was also incredibly captivating as a young girl forced to live with a zombie version of her dead brother. However I found it was the veteran members of the cast who really stole the show namely Steve Evetts as the sinister Bill. The only problem with In the Flesh is that there are only two episodes left which is a shame as I really wanted to spend more time with these characters. At the same time I think it’s great that Mitchell knows where the story is going and after watching this amazing first episode I’m willing to go along with him.

We had even more youth-based drama this week with the arrival of E4’s Youngers. The drama follows teenage best friends Jay (Calvin Demba) and Yemi (Ade Oyefso) who dream of making it big in the music business. The first episode is set around the pair discovering how well they did in their GCSE exams which in turn sees their lives turn in different directions. Studious Yemi aces all of his exams and therefore earns a scholarship place at a prestigious private college. Meanwhile cheeky Jay failed to knuckle down and has achieved poor results meaning that he may have to and work for his dad (Ricky Champ). Jay sees a lifeline when he hears about an open mic competition and feels that he and Yemi could perform at the event. However Yemi believes the pair aren’t as good as Jay believes and turns down his friend suggestion severing their relationship briefly. Late Yemi discovers that fellow college student Davina (Shavani Seth) will also be performing at the open mic night so reconciles with Jay. Youngers is one of those programmes that I know was just not made for me. Though I have enjoyed E4’s other youth-related programmes such as Skins, The Inbetweeners and My Mad Fat Diary this really didn’t do much for me. I think the main problem I had was that it lacked a certain edge and the fact that it was on at 7:30pm meant that it couldn’t contain much risqué content. But despite these criticisms I felt Youngers had a bright, enthusiastic cast who coped well with their first television drama. In addition I was never bored and found the story to be an enjoyable coming-of-age tale even though it was one that has been told much better. Overall I’m sure Youngers will attract a young hip audience who will love it but I’m just not sure I’m one of their number.

While I can see what sort of audience Youngers would appeal to I’m still baffled by those who found any merit in It’s Kevin. The  sketch show fronted by Kevin Eldon an actor who has appeared in almost every comedy of the 1990s and 2000s. After years of service to comedy TV, Eldon has finally been rewarded with his own show the problem is it isn’t very funny. It appears as if Eldon has been given free reign over the creation of It’s Kevin which I believe is its biggest problem. It’s Kevin is certainly surrealist comedy of the highest degree but unfortunately most of the sketches were fairly forgettable. So for example we saw a man who was given his own soundtrack while later we were also privy to Eldon’s history of the sandwich. I felt that a lot of the jokes had been done before and it almost appeared as if Eldon had written a lot of this sketch show when he was first starting out. As Eldon has been in the industry for many years a lot of his friends have stepped in to add some star power so that means we saw the likes of Bill Bailey, Julia Davies and Amelia Bullmore all feature briefly. Watching one episode of It’s Kevin was enough for me as Eldon’s brand of absurdist comedy felt a bit dated and crucially I never once found it funny. I believe that Eldon is strongest as a comedy actor and hopefully that is a vocation he will return to following the failure of his sketch show.

Remember you can always follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites and I’ll see you next week for more of the same.

Matt Donnelly

Matt Donnelly


Made in Staffordshire, Matt is the co-editor of the site and co-host of The Custard TV Podcast. Matt has been writing about TV for over fifteen years and has written for the site for almost a decade. He's just realised this makes him a lot older than he thought he was.


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