"The Book Group", the creation of writer-director Annie Griffin, is a superb, Glasgow-based comedy-drama. Annie Dudek stars as Claire, the prissy and neurotic American expatriate who initiates the titular group with a view to meeting high-minded types like herself. Instead, she gets Dirka, Fist and Janice, three Scottish footballers' wives, the wheelchair-bound Kenny, a leisure-centre worker with ambitions to be a writer despite his apparent inarticulacy, the stubbly-faced football-mad Rab and the insufferable Barney, a post-grad student and heroin addict at whom Claire makes one of the most embarrassingly disastrous passes in TV history in the opening episode.
"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"