You Should Watch: Happy Valley

You Should Watch: Happy Valley

Leigh MichaelWednesday,18 June 2014

The Snap:

Television writer Sally Wainwright, the force of nature of a television writer from across the pond, has treated audiences to another treat: Happy Valley [trailer below], a show that The Guardian claims has “got something for everyone to get their teeth into, except perhaps Calderdale’s tourism team.”

Never one to fit into cookie-cutter molds, Wainwright has a proven track record of success across a range of of genres: At Home with the Braithwaites is a a comedic soap about a dysfunctional family, Scott & Bailey is a police drama that upends the male-heavy niche with two female leads, and Last Tango in Halifax is a charming portrait of two septuagenarians who find love late in life.

Happy Valley might not charm you, but it will captivate you. I watched the entire season in a weekend… And I’m only mildly ashamed. I really think there were no other options.

The Download:

I don’t like Happy Valley solely because Jake Bugg commands the opening credits (though it doesn’t hurt).

I like it because it’s different.

Sure, it has all of the elements of a crime drama: a no-nonsense policeman plagued with skeletons in the personal closet, a community of people who seems to be stuck in an endless cycle of crime and poverty, and stark, woeful landscapes that create the perfect canvas for a drama where “happiness” feels like little more than a word in the dictionary.

But Sally Wainwright wasn’t interested in fitting into a mold. She eschews shows like Luther, arguing that British should own its own identity… And not bow into the ‘Americanized TV genre.’ She explains:

“Wainwright is impatient with what she sees as British drama’s lack of faith in itself – shows that try to establish their quality “by all but having American accents.”

“A lot of British television now is trying to be cool, and what a lot of people feel is cool is American,” she says with some frustration. “Rather than trying to be British and look like British television and make British places look cool, they just want to be American.”

Happy Valley is a story built by many moving parts. At the fulcrum of the story is Catherine Cawood (played by the truly exceptional Sarah Lancashire), a police sergeant who is struggling to recover from the suicide of her daughter. At the same time, a Fargo-esque scene is unfolding: Lewis Whippey pays a group of thugs to kidnap his boss’s daughter in hope of getting money for his kids to go to school. And it just so happens that one of those thugs is Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), the man who Cawood believes is responsible for her daughter’s death.

It’s a show that is part crime drama, part family portrait, and part black comedy. It’s at once heart-wrenchingly depressing and heartening. It’s also brilliant.

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Hat Tips:

The Guardian, The Guardian Interview, Happy Valley, Image Credit: Flickr

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