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Bingeable: Happy Valley 

Where? Netflix; 2014-present.

I find Happy Valley, a British crime drama now streaming its second season as a Netflix Original Series, absolutely irresistible. Maybe it’s because of its strong female lead, Sgt. Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire), given life by writer-director Sally Wainwright. Too often crime dramas are male-centric, more about machismo and excitement than the grinding banality of police work and the emotional toll it leaves in its wake. Also, instead of typical dramatic trappings involving romantic imbroglios or competition between strong male egos, Happy Valley explores the drama of family relationships.

Catherine’s sister is Clare (Siobhan Finneran), a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict, who lives with her and helps care for her grandson Ryan (Rhys Connah), the product of a rape committed by Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton). Ryan’s mother killed herself because of it, and when Catherine took Ryan in, it created a rift between her now ex-husband Richard (Derek Riddell) and her adult son Daniel (Karl Davies), neither of whom want anything to do with Ryan, who suffers from behavior problems. As complicated as this may sound, Wainwright does an amazing job of keeping the various relationships and plot threads clear.

click to enlarge STRONG WOMAN:  Happy Valley, starring Sarah Lancashire as Sgt. Catherine Cawood, might be the best cop show you’re not watching. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BBC
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF BBC
  • STRONG WOMAN: Happy Valley, starring Sarah Lancashire as Sgt. Catherine Cawood, might be the best cop show you’re not watching.

The first six-episode season finds Catherine trying to deal emotionally with her daughter’s suicide while keeping an eye on Royce, recently released from prison after an eight-year stretch on drug charges. Royce now appears to be involved in the kidnapping of Ann Gallagher (Charlie Murphy), a crime conceived by Ann’s father’s employee Kevin Weatherill (Steve Pemberton) but orchestrated by Ashley Cowgill (Joe Armstrong), who quickly squeezes Kevin into a smaller share of the deal but also loses control as Catherine comes ever closer to discovering the plot. It’s gripping television to say the least.

The second season takes up 18 months later, with Catherine back at work and at first considered a hero thanks to rescuing Ann, but later suspected of murder when Royce’s mother is murdered. Meanwhile, a young woman (Shirley Henderson) who’s fallen under the spell of the now imprisoned-for-life Royce is encouraged to get close to Royce’s son, Ryan, and encourages the child to want a relationship with the convict. There’s also a side story about police detective John Wadsworth (Kevin Doyle), who’s involved in a souring affair—he kills his lover and tries to pass it off as the work of a serial killer who’s on the loose. It’s particularly delicious watching him vacillate between glee as he thinks he’s getting away with his crime and squirm when he realizes he isn’t in the clear yet. This is a show I couldn’t stop watching.

Whether there will be a third season is up in the air. Wainwright said she was interested but is busy with other commitments, and Lancashire has flat out said she won’t star if a third season materializes. Too bad. I’d definitely tune in. (Each season consist of six-roughly 60 minute episodes.) 

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