As soon as you can set aside six hours of viewing time, get started with the Happy Valley TV show, which, though advertised as a “Netflix original series,” is a recent BBC crime drama. It will slowly draw you in during episode 1 and by episode 3, if not sooner, you’ll be binge watching until the end.
Happy Valley begins as a dark humored drama, the kind of British TV series you would expect a network like Showtime to pick up and adapt, like they did with Shameless. There are even some elements of Fargo as the plot develops. Regular folks turn to criminal acts and quickly get in way over their heads. A kidnapping early in the show has connections to the personal life of the police officer in charge; soon, everything has spiraled out of control.
Sarah Lancashire stars as Catherine Cawood, a dedicated, stubborn police sargeant in Yorkshire. Her personal life is messy, it’s revealed in the first scene she is divorced with one dead child, one that won’t speak to her and an ex-addict sister that lives with her. At the same time, she is trying to raise a grandson that half of her family refuses to acknowledge. When she loses her temper or takes out her frustration on coworkers, it’s no surprise.
As the kidnapping case deepens, the show gets darker, with less humor. It is also more effective. Once the show finds it footing and we get acquainted with the characters, events are already happening quickly. Catherine’s psychological state becomes as important as the criminal case. Scenes of the quaint village tucked into the rolling hills of the English countryside contrast sharply with the reality of what is taking place inside the town. With cliffhangers at the end of each episode, it’s hard to stop watching.
Happy Valley includes convincing performances from Steve Pemberton as Kevin Weatherill, who is a better accountant than criminal, Siobhan Finneran as Catherine’s sister, Clare, and Charlie (Charlotte) Murphy from Love/Hate as the kidnap victim. James Norton is quietly menacing as Tommy Lee Royce, a career criminal.
The Happy Valley TV series was written and partially directed by Sally Wainwright, creator of past British TV shows such as Last Tango in Halifax and Unforgiven. It first aired on BBC One in spring, 2014. Happy Valley season 2 has been commissioned, but no release date has been set. (Update: Season 2 arrived on Netflix early in 2016. Our review is here.) While a small segment of the British viewing audience complained about graphic violence in a couple of the episodes, American audiences are not likely to be phased. Put the show on your Netflix instant viewing list, but make sure your calendar is clear before you click “play.”