Awhile back, Hulu was not just another streaming service. It streamed most of its shows for free, hoping to make money by ads.Gradually, they added more and more paid entries, until it’s now using the same model as Netflix and the rest. But back then, you were able to discover shows you never would have noticed. It’s where I discovered Misfits, the best show about super powers on TV. But there were other, more grounded series and another great one was The Book Group.
Clare Pettengill (Anne Dudek) is an American who has moved to Glasgow, Scotland. Bored and not knowing anyone, she starts up a book group to discuss literature. The group consists of Kenny McLeod (Rory McCann), and easygoing guy who’s in a wheelchair after an accident. There are also Fist de Grook (Saskia Mulder) and Dirker (Bonnie Enstrom), and Janice McCann (Michelle Gomez), trophy wives of local pro football* players. Rounding out the group are student Lachlan (James Lance) and Rab (Derek Riddel), who has some secrets of his own.
The story isn’t about the books – they rarely manage to get around to talking about them – but the personalities and quirks of the characters. Clair is acerbic, while Kenny is always upbeat. Janice is unhappy in her marriage, while the other all have issues that mix drama and comedy.
Annie Griffin not only wrote all the episode (not unusual in British TV), but directed them, too. It allows her to slowly reveal character as the show progresses, while also showing how the group changes them.
The show was successful in the UK, winning a couple of BAFTA Awards** before Griffin moved on.
A couple of faces should be familiar. Dudek – who is excellent – was cast in House as Amber. I’m certain that her performance in The Book Club was a factor in her getting the part; there are many similarities. She also had a recurring role in Mad Men.
Michelle Gomez went on to become famous as the totally bonkers Sue White in Green Wing. Of course, you’re more likely to have heard of her as Missy in Doctor Who.
After two seasons, the show Annie Griffith went on to other things. There was an announcement of a movie, but nothing seems to have come of it, and the cast has moved on. Still, the result is fun and entertaining.
*Soccer, if you’re American.
**UK equivalent of an Emmy