In a world where sci-fi and fantasy has proven to be extremely popular, BBC are killing it at the minute with their British dramas. One show that seems to be outdoing everything else on television right now is Happy Valley. The drama follows a Yorkshire police sergeant who's nightmares become reality when the man responsible for her daughter's suicide is released from prison. The first series aired back in 2014 to commercial and critical praise, with many noting the realistic tone of the series. Currently airing the hotly anticipated second series, Happy Valley is as popular as ever, leading us to ask why such a depressing, yet excellent show appears to be at the top of the TV game.
1. The Writing
When Happy Valley is discussed in the media, one thing that people always refer to is the standard of writing. Every episode is penned by Sally Wainwright, the award winning writer behind Last Tango in Halifax. Wainwright's writing surpasses that of all screenwriters - specifically dialogue which can be described as extraordinarily mundane - conversations that people in your neighbourhood could have. On top of the excellent dialogue, the pacing and reveals are excellent. Many worried that Wainwright's Happy Valley would suffer the second series syndrome that shows such as True Detective and Broadchurch suffered, but this was not the case with Happy Valley. With only two episodes left, it is clear that series two is of the same standard as the first. Wainwright might as well clear some room on her mantelpiece, because Happy Valley 2 will be bringing her more awards.
2. The Acting
Discussed equally as much as the writing, Happy Valley is in another class when it comes to the actors. Led by the incomparable Sarah Lancashire, who is remarkable as Sergeant Catherine Cawood. Lancashire relays Catherine's trials brilliantly and her emotional scenes are Emmy worthy. Lancashire stunned in this past week's episode, realising that perhaps her demons may never go away. Similarly, James Norton makes the viewer detest Tommy Lee Royce - Catherine's nemesis. Moreover, his role as the psychopathic Tommy is a far cry from his other fan favourite roles in Grantchester and War & Peace. If you want to be an actor - watch Lancashire and Norton in action. Siobhan Finneran is brilliant as Catherine's kind-hearted sister Clare, who has her own demons. Karl Davies and Rhys Connah have a lot more screen time this year, which is appreciated, as both are excellent. Rhys Connah is a fantastic actor and has given Ryan so much depth. While Happy Valley often boils down to Lancashire and Norton, the whole cast are excellent.
3. It's Realistic
In a world over saturated with every genre you can imagine, it is rare to get a piece of television that is so representative of real life that you might as well be watching a documentary. As I mentioned earlier, Wainwright's dialogue is similar to listening to a conversation you would have in the grocery store - it's reminiscent of every day life. Moreover, the location helps with the realism by providing the viewer with an insight into a beautiful part of the world. The characters are ordinary people - nobody is perfect and even the best of them have their issues. Moreover, the show has been criticised for it's violence towards women, but Lancashire and Wainwright have defended it, saying that it's not gratuitous and it's representative of what real life female police officers face every day.
4. The Characters
Every character in Happy Valley is brilliantly written - you could write an essay on every one of them, as they are not one dimensional. As I mention above, the characters are real people. Catherine Cawood is the strongest character on television right now and despite the fact that she is the hero of the piece, she doesn't necessarily get her happy ending. Moreover, as much as we root for Catherine, we often find ourselves disagreeing with her, which brings me back to the point - no character is perfect. Often like real life, the characters have their own flaws and can contradict themselves. The second series saw the introduction of some new characters, played by famous faces such as Shirley Henderson (Harry Potter), Katherine Kelly (Coronation Street, Mr. Selfridge), Matthew Lewis (Harry Potter) and Kevin Doyle (Downton Abbey), who's characters are equally as compelling as the others. Tommy Lee Royce is the villain, but we are given some insight into his life - Wainwright makes us question why Tommy is the way that he is - perhaps he had a bad upbringing. Tommy is not a one dimensional villain, he is real character who is clearly psychotic. Even on occasion, we may feel sympathy for Tommy. Every character in Happy Valley is relatable in some form or another, and that is all down to Wainwright's remarkable writing ability.
5. "Word Of Mouth Hit"
After the incredible success of the first series, people have had two years to get caught up in time for the second. With Happy Valley being widely available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download including iTunes, the opportunities to see the show that everybody is talking about are endless. Radio Times called Happy Valley a "word-of-mouth hit" that "steadily became a success outside the normal audience for the slot and channel." Moreover, the show currently holds an 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The second series has also been riddled with success with Digital Spy commenting that "It's still grim up North and it's still hugely addictive". The first series has remained in the top 3 TV series' on iTunes since series 2 began.
So despite the ordinary nature of Happy Valley, the show continues it's success during it's second run. For the moment, it remains uncertain if there will be a third series, as Lancashire has said that she had to be convinced to return for the second, and that she is adamant that she won't be doing a third. "I really wouldn't want to do a third...We set out to tell a story, and this is certainly the end of the story," says Lancashire. However Wainwright says that, if a third series were to happen, she has, "always got loads of ideas and it will probably feature more of the same''. Wainwright further went on to say that "it depends on the viewing figures" - if the viewing figures are anything to go by, then we'll definitely be re-visting the Trouble Town sometime in the future.
Happy Valley airs on BBC One Tuesday's at 9pm. In the US, series two arrives on Netflix on March 16.