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Happy Valley: Season 1

What She said:

She

Ok, so you know how much I love British television and film. While researching Peaky Blinders, I came across a review from another person who simply stated, “Peaky Blinders is ok, but Happy Valley is a really great British drama that blows Peaky out of the water,” or something to that effect. Well, I often find that the TV that I love best comes to me via recommendations, so I decided to hunt down Happy Valley. Like Peaky Blinders, this program aired in the UK, but is available over here in the States exclusively on Netflix. It only has one season under its belt (or “series” as the Brits call it), and that was only six one-hour episodes long. The show starts a little slow, but quickly draws the viewer into a tense, engaging, and emotionally-charged drama/thriller.

Happy Valley: Season 1

The show tells the story of Catherine Cawood, a small-town police sergeant who is still struggling to move past her daughter’s suicide. Her daughter was raped by no-gooder Tommy Lee Royce and ended up giving birth to an illegitimate son. The incident haunted her until she eventually killed herself, leaving son, Ryan, to Catherine to raise with the help of her live-in sister and recovering alcoholic, Clare.

Tommy has always claimed that the relations were consensual, and he was never charged for the crime. However, he has been in jail for quite some time on different charges, and was recently released. The fact that Tommy is out of prison and once again prowling the streets really bothers Catherine. She knows that he’s a career criminal, and that someone else will be hurt by his actions before too long. Catherine quickly becomes borderline obsessed with finding Tommy and getting him back into jail.

But in the meantime, there are other happenings in town. The daughter of a very important local businessman, Nevison Gallagher, has been kidnapped and the criminals are demanding a ransom for her safe return. What Catherine doesn’t know, and what she slowly starts to reveal, is that this kidnapping plan is extremely complex, involving Nevison’s accountant Kevin Weatherill, a local drug dealer, Ashley Cowgill, and two of his workers, Lewis Whippey and the troubled Tommy Lee Royce.

Initially, the police are not involved in the kidnapping at all, as Nevison tries to keep everything off their radar and comply with the captors demands. However, the kidnapping spirals out of control, horrible things happen to Ann Gallagher, a policeman loses her life, and eventually things escalate to the point where Nevison and his wife must involve Catherine. Season one follows her as she tries to solve the kidnapping and find Tommy, while also juggling the demands of family life and single parenthood.  It’s all super gripping and fascinating to watch.

Happy Valley: Season 1

I think the greatest strength of this show is the sheer quality of its writing. A kidnapping is a fairly simple premise, but the writers layered on top of that the plot of Catherine’s daughter, which really steps things up a notch. The events of the show unfold in a way that’s mysterious and enthralling. And more than once I found myself not anticipating the next curveball they threw at me. Talk about a show that will induce binge watching—each episode ends with a cliffhanger that nearly makes it impossible not to cancel your plans and watch six straight hours of television.

I did recognize a few of the faces on this show, but that’s likely just because I’ve seen so much British television. For the novice, you may not be familiar with any of the actors or actresses. However, I assure you that they all do a fantastic job. Sarah Lancashire as the lead is very effective, wearing her emotion on her face. You often see her visibly taxed and drawn out, with tears in her eyes. She does a great job of conveying her trauma in a very natural way that is believable. This show features an ensemble cast, and each actor and actress—good guy or bad guy—is exceptional.

Happy Valley: Season 1

These British shows were at one time a little lacking in their production quality, but there has been a notable improvement in the last couple of years. Happy Valley is no exception. It is visually well-composed. Not quite as good as shows like Breaking Bad or Justified, but effective none-the-less. One word of warning, this show can be quite graphic. I’ve read that there have been many complaints overseas about this. To me, it’s not the worst. There are some pretty gruesome moments, but it does add to the value of the story. Just be forewarned.

This is a great show for someone who is looking for a gripping thriller/drama. It fits the bill well.

Thumbs up.