Last Tuesday night saw the return to our screens of Sally Wainwright’s critically acclaimed crime drama Happy Valley. This second series has started off just as good as the marvelous first one ended, high praise indeed!
If you are a football fan then you dread a thing called ‘second season syndrome’ happening to one of your best players. This is where after a brilliant first season at your club, the player then has a bit of a stinker second time around. If you are an avid music fan then you will be familiar with the phrase ‘second album syndrome’. This is where after an amazing first album, a band then release a second offering which is thus nowhere near as good, e.g The Stone Roses. ‘Second series syndrome’ is the television equivalent of these two phrases. It is the thing that many TV writers fear the most when penning a follow up series but sadly this still does not prevent it from happening. A recent example of this was the second series of Broadchurch that got broadly panned by the critics after a staggeringly popular first series. On the basis of last night then I am pleased to say that Happy Valley does not appear to have succumbed to this TV drama curse. We should not have been surprised at this though should we, after all writer Sally Wainwright has already proven to us just what a magnificent drama writer she really is.
What makes Happy Valley work so well is down to three key ingredients for me. Firstly, it is the exceptional writing ability from Sally Wainwright. Secondly, it is the marvelous cast and acting. Thirdly, it is the idyllic stone cladding Yorkshire setting juxtaposed against a murkier inner city one. Throw in some emotive dramatic music and it ticked all the boxes again for me in this first episode of the second series. What I loved was how Sally got the balance just right in terms of the story. She opened up new characters and storylines for us to get hooked into, whilst at the same time also coming back to the major one that enthralled us all in the first series. To me it was masterful story telling which I look forward to seeing develop over the forthcoming episodes.
I guess the best compliment I could pay to Sally Wainwright about the first airing of series two, was that it felt like episode seven of series one rather than the first of episode two. The writing and feel of the show felt comfortingly familiar without ever being bland. As soon as I watched Sarah Lancashire as police sergeant Catherine Cawood, somewhat comically detail to her younger sister how she had to put an end to this sheep’s misery via a brick to the head, then I knew this was the show again that I loved so much in the first series. It was humorous in places along with menacing, emotive, creepy, as well as being immensely enthralling throughout.
We saw the plot separate into three interconnected strands on Tuesday night. The first one involved Sergeant Cawood finding a murdered badly mutlilated body in a garage lock up whilst arresting three lads for ‘sheep offences’. This kicked off a murder inquiry and events took a turn for the worst for Catherine when it was later revealed that the victim of the murder was Tommy Lee Royce’s mother Lynn Dewhurst. Tommy Lee Royce being the psychopath now in jail for murder who had once raped Catherine’s daughter(who later then committed suicide due to the trauma of getting pregnant from the ordeal).
The second strand was us finding Tommy Lee Royce now in jail and him being informed about his mother’s murder. I know Sarah Lancashire gets much well deserved plaudits for her performance as Sergeant Catherine Cawood, but for me equally as good as her is actor James Norton who plays Tommy. I find James totally convincing as psychopath Tommy. The menacing looks he delivers at times as Tommy don’t half give me the hibby jibbies. The loathing and disgust he holds for Sergeant Cawood was in full effect again on Tuesday night. In jail we saw him being visited by creepy obsessive stalker/lover interest Frances Drummond(played by Shirley Henderson). Shirley is a great actress and is a welcome addition to the cast. I do not mean this in a bad way, but her look to me is ideally suited in playing such a ‘odd person part’ if that is the right way to describe it? She had this brilliantly haunting, slightly creepy feel to performance in episode one. I am guessing Tommy is going to going to manipulate Frances and get her to try and exact his revenge on Catherine.
The third main storyline was that of married man of two Detective Sergeant Kevin Doyle(played by John Wadsworth), being harassed by his adulterous lover Vicky Fleming(played by Amelia Bullmore). Once placid Kevin told Vicky that he wanted to end the affair then we saw her react non too kindly to the news(bit of an understatement). This involved her spiking his drink and whilst he was unconscious taking an compromising photo of him(she photographed him in women’s underwear). At end we saw her tell a stunned Kevin that she wanted blackmail money in return for her not sending the image/s to all the people in his mobile phone address book. This intriguing storyline beautifully completed the more sinister ones of the new murder and that of Tommy Lee Royce versus Sergeant Catherine Cawood. I look forward to seeing how this crazed jilted lover storyline develops in the coming weeks.
My only slight criticism of the first episode was to do with the sound quality at times. Periodically, I could not tell what some of the characters were saying properly. By this I mean I thought some of the dialogue seem muffled and a bit hard to make out. At first this did not bother me that much but it did start to frustrate me somewhat towards the end. Nevertheless, I guess it is the sign of a mighty fine programme when all I can think to moan about it is sound quality on occasions.
Happy Valley did not suffer from ‘second series syndrome’ far from it, it’s return was one unmitigated TRIUMPH!! 5/5.