Reader's Digest

Most of the pop culture items I write about on this blog are properties that I'm well aware of before I consume them. I'll have gotten a recommendation from a friend, or read a promising review, or something like that. Once in a while, though, it's more fun to just enter blindly into something that looks interesting and see how it goes.

That's what I did with the UK television show The Book Group, which had a short, twelve-episode run from 2002-2003. I was leaping around the available shows on Netflix Instant streaming, and this one caught my eye. The premise sounded intriguing, so I decided to try it out. It captured my attention from the very first episode, and I stayed fascinated through all twelve of them, though not always for good reasons.

The initial storyline couldn't be simpler: Neurotic American expat Claire is building a new life for herself in Glasgow, Scotland. In an effort to meet new people, she starts a book group that attracts a wheelchair-bound Scottish man who works at a community center, three bored soccer wives, a closeted dopey guy, and a pompous, drug-addicted loser from England. Ostensibly, they meet to discuss the book that one of them has selected, but the theme of said book usually sets them off on a path of fighting, hooking up, or self-reflection.

At least, that's what the first season (Episodes 1-6) entails. It was enjoyable to watch the disparate personalities bounce off of each other, and although some of their traits were a little broadly drawn, the performances were enchanting (the standout being Janice (Michelle Gomez), a woman who wants nothing more than to be loved by everyone, and imbues every word and action with hyper-dramatic flair).

Unfortunately, something turned during the break, and the second season (Episodes 7-12) pretty much runs the show off the rails. Though the characters had wacky ideas in Season 1, their actions were always grounded in reality. In Season 2, they shatter the believability by following their insane ids wherever they may lead, from banging teenagers to implausible career changes. The book group participants split off into separate storylines for no discernible reason. Claire retreats into a fantasy world for no discernible reason. Major new characters are wedged into the group dynamic for no discernible reason. Everything is bigger and louder and over-the-top, and it doesn't serve the show well.

Perhaps this was the television equivalent of a one-hit wonder. Season 1 was a brilliant little gem that faded all too quickly. It would have been nice to see what better writing in Season 2 could have led to, but all in all, I'm glad I stumbled across The Book Group. It's given me the newfound zeal to go discover some other ignored show that I might wind up loving.

The Book Group - Season 1: B+
The Book Group - Season 2: C


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