I like my crime dramas the way I like my men: Gritty and English.
Sally Wainwright (one of my favorite minds in the television world) has done it again. Ladies and gentleman, may I present you with her 10-episode series, Happy Valley. Originally planned to be a one-off, the show was so successful that at the end of its run this past spring, a second series was requested. The series originally aired on BBC, is now available on Netflix, and there’s no excuse for not giving it a shot.
In the tradition of shows like Broadchurch, Happy Valley is essentially a show about a town. That said, the people of the town and how they interact is explored through the use of a (usually quite grim) mystery. That’s true here as well.
Sarah Lancashire stars as Catherine Cawood, a police sergeant only just easing back into the game in her hometown after the suicide of her beloved daughter. While on the job, she spots the man who raped and got her daughter pregnant, events that drove her daughter to an early grave. Catherine is obsessed with getting this man back in jail and away from the child he left behind that she is now raising as her own.
Catherine hasn’t been able to get over her daughter’s death (who could?!) and meets resistance when her gut tells her to pursue the man who raped her daughter. Eventually it becomes clear that she was horribly correct: The man in question is involved in the kidnapping of a business owner’s daughter, orchestrated by a bitter employee.
One gut-punch of a season is available for you to watch right now. The temptation will be to binge watch, but I suggest you space it out. Not only will this enable you to savor the series, but it will also keep you from drowning in a pool of your own tears.
Why You Should Watch It:
Two words: Sarah. Lancashire. If I was allowed to go on, Sarah. Lancashire. Is. Amazing. She is an actress who completely inhabits her characters. When we meet her as Catherine, the weight of the traumatic events of her life up until this point aren’t the only things that we know about her. It also becomes rapidly clear that she’s smart, funny, and exceptionally tough. That being said, she’s also deeply damaged. Her relationship with her husband didn’t survive their daughter’s death, though the two still sleep together. Her relationship with her adult son is fractured and her relationship with her grandson is fraught by her concerns that he will grow into his father and not his mother.
Watching Lancashire act is like watching an open wound — but like, in a good way. It’s rare that a woman is allowed to helm a television drama without being literally mentally ill. Cawood is an ideal television hero as we have come to know them. She is brash, cantankerous, tough and passionate but not unhinged, tortured but not irreparably damaged. She also happens to be a middle-aged woman. That’s ten kinds of awesome.
GIVE HER EVERY PART THAT THERE IS, WORLD.
This Series Is For You If:
Gritty crime dramas are your jam. Did you love Scott and Bailey? Then do not pass go, do not collect two-hundred dollars, get you to your nearest internet-accessing screen and watch the heck out of this show. If you love procedurals but wish they contained a bit more pathos and that the humor was a million percent richer, than this is the show that you’ve been waiting for.
Happy Valley is a quiet, devastating, and ultimately deeply satisfying watch. I’m exceptionally glad that a second season has been green-lit, but I’m intensely curious about whether or not it will be able to pack the same emotional wallop as season one did.
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