Happy Valley: The best new series that I almost missed in 2014

The first thing that happens in Happy Valley is an introduction of character (by said character) that throws the whole “show don’t tell” ethos out the window. Catharine Cawood (the tremendous Sarah Lancashire, who the entire show hinges around, the standout in a uniformly good cast), a police sergeant in Yorkshire, is called to the scene where a young man, down on his luck, has doused himself in gasoline in a playground and is threatening to light himself on fire. Catherine introduces herself to the man saying, “I’m Catherine, by the way. I’m forty-seven. I’m divorced. I live with my sister, who’s a recovering heroin addict. I’ve two grown-up children – one dead, one who don’t speak to me – and a grandson. So.” And we are off and running. But what is strange here is that Happy Valley, after Catherine’s speech and the promise of being a by the book, heart-on-sleeve cop show, is much more a show about the way that violence, grief and guilt can turn people inward, can shut them down and turn them off. Catherine’s openness to this man in the opening moments of the show is a bit of a red herring to the rest of the output, and the show is all the better for it. Continue reading