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Happy Valley series two is television at its best

Alison Graham on Sally Wainwright's compelling dark thriller and its place among the best shows on TV

Published: Wednesday, 20th September 2017 at 11:19 am

Some people are sniffy about television. I know! The poltroons. I’m not talking about the Better Call Saul/Making a Murderer bores. They are just snobs. No, I mean the people who snort about television in general, the people who think time watching television is time wasted and that those of us who love television are part of a pinwheel-eyed cult incapable of independent thought.


I have no idea what people who don’t watch telly actually do with themselves. Probably eat sushi, or (pause for breath) houmous, while translating Chekov for fun. Actually, they probably go to the theatre. I’m yawning already.

But for their own good I want to appeal to them all, to take them each by the shoulders and turn them towards Happy Valley and say, “There you go, just look at this, this is what television at its best can do and it’s world-beating, it’s brilliant, no other art form can approach it for vision, humour, thrills and just monumentally good storytelling.”

As we reach the penultimate episode of Sally Wainwright’s black comedy/ dark thriller it’s also probably time to stop whispering, “Is this better than series one?” and start shouting “YES, this is better than series one and series one was superb!”

Happy Valley surprises every week. There’s always at least one intellectual blow to the head as Wainwright, who is writing at her peak and at her boldest, goes where no one else dares. Tuesday’s episode is so shocking I stared into space for a little bit afterwards muttering “I can’t believe she did that.” But it’s Sally Wainwright and yes, she did that. I can’t say what, but you will know. Oh yes, you will know.

Happy Valley defies categorisation. It’s probably filed under Crime Drama in the DVD section of HMV, but that little label tells only a tiny part of the story. Happy Valley is about so much more, maybe it’s even about everything.

But Wainwright’s particular skill is of course with character, specifically female characters and with mothers, female friendships, wives and, particularly I think, sisters. Those chats between police officer Catherine Cawood and her sweet, well-meaning, flawed, kind sister Clare (Sarah Lancashire and Siobhan Finneran, who should share every acting award going) are my favourite bits.

The long, silly, serious fractured chats where they sit in the garden, smoking (though I heartily disapprove of smoking, of course), nursing mugs of tea (everyone drinks a lot of tea in Happy Valley) as they tell stories, catch up, joke, laugh, or talk from their hearts. And yes I’m aware of mutterings about supposed mumbling, but I can’t believe a few missed words seriously harms anyone’s viewing pleasure. I must assume that a regular audience of well over six million people wouldn't stick with something they can't hear.

There is tenderness and anger and exasperation in Catherine and Clare’s relationship, demonstrated with great compassion by Wainwright when Clare, a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict, fell off the wagon and got roaring drunk at a funeral. The siblings argued bitterly, saying things neither could take back. Yet Catherine’s instinct to protect was overwhelming, and conquered her fury at Clare’s momentary weakness. They are bound by more than just shared DNA.

There’s so much more to say about Happy Valley — the Hitchcockian levels of black humour surrounding spineless detective John (the peerless Kevin Doyle) and his brutal disposal of his troublesome mistress. Catherine’s struggle to love her grandson, blameless little Ryan, product of Tommy Lee Royce’s rape of her daughter. My heart snaps for Ryan every time Tommy’s barmy religious-fetishist “girlfriend” Frances (Shirley Henderson) twists his emotions.


Yes, there’s so much more to say. But I’ll end with a plea – if you don’t watch it please, please, please do. And if you do – it’s great, isn’t it?


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