The Book Group is a magnificent device for bringing an unlikely cast of characters together, supposedly out of a love of literature but in fact because each of them in their own way has pretensions or ambitions to make something different out of their lives. Waves of sexual longing between the group members are among the many things that interfere with the discussions of the texts, with Kenny in particular an object of fascination for both Dirka and Fist. With each episode cleverly themed around the chosen book of the week, The Book Group is hilarious yet wise, understated and often painfully melancholic, based on detailed character study rather than contrived situations or eye-catching melodrama. It is indispensable viewing.
On the DVD: The Book Group's main extra is a poorly edited but absorbing sequence of interviews with all of the cast members except James Lance, who plays Barney. Rory McGann (Kenny), who comes from a non-acting background, is particularly interesting. --David Stubbs
There is a rather bizzare feeling to this show from the first five minutes - is it a drama? A comedy? What?? The first episode is basically the blueprint for the entire series (what the characters do before book group whilst reading the book, how the book influences them, and the meeting where they discuss the book). In this episode we see all the principal characters for the first time, discuss the book, and then disperse. That's about it for the first episode. But it's the writing that grabs you here - the characters are so well written that you are completely entertained by there clunky initial interaction, and the actors' performances are spot-on, especially main charater Clare (Anne Dudek) and Rab (Derek Riddel). Wheelchair user Kenny (Rory McCann) proves himself to be the textbook heart throb from episode one, with his calm demeanour and positive attitude to life. Dirka, Fist and Janice - the trio of footballers' wives - are the immediate comical part of the show with their high-pitched silliness, but as the series progresses you begin to see beyond the surface of every character and what really happens beneath closed-doors. Kenny is about the only character with a stable existence, a rock in the chaos of the characters lives.
There seems to be an underlying subplot of unhappiness with each of the characters, and how none of their lives have turned out exactly as they imagined. Clare has come to Scotland, but is more than a little homesick. Janice, Fist and Dirka may have glamaorous wealth by marrying professional footballers, but their lives are still full of frustration and longing.Read more ›
Never has this been more apparent than in the last couple of years, with comedies that go out of their way to show other people’s tortuous lives served up for our comedy delectation. Leading the vanguard of this movement has been ‘The Office’, to the extent that it’s now seemingly illegal to hold an awards ceremony without giving some form of gong to Ricky Gervais. In some ways this is a shame, as writer/director Annie Griffin’s ‘The Book Group’ for Channel 4 has been cruelly overlooked.
The premise is simple: uptight American Claire, anxious to meet new people now that she lives in Glasgow, sets up a book group – but the people that turn up are far from what she expected. The assorted group of misfits meet up each week, ostensibly to talk about a particular book, but real life keeps getting in the way.
The absence of a laughter track is a real godsend for this series, as so much of the comedy depends upon nuances of dialogue and subtleties of expression that are easy to miss. There are plenty of situations that would never work if an audience had to be given the space to find a punchline. In particular, at the end of the first episode as Anne Dudek's uptight Claire makes a ridiculously ham-fisted pass at Barney, shouts and cries in anger and despair once he's left, only to realise that she's not alone in the flat, is tortuous to watch.Read more ›