I absolutely loved the first series of Happy Valley. ‘Loved’ doesn’t seem like it should be the right word for something that was really astonishingly bleak at times but through truly incredible writing and acting, the brutal subject matter became just a catalyst for a fascinating look at normal people. I was dubious though whether that could work in a second season. Part of the success of the series was the reality of life in a relatively small UK town and that the kind of events portrayed just didn’t usually happen there. Could it work a second time? Would the reality be broken?
I think the answer is that it does break the series a little bit. But that doesn’t matter, because just as the first season wasn’t really about the crimes themselves, neither is the second. It’s still about the people involved, what drives them, what happens to them, how do they react, and what does that do to the people around them.
Sarah Lancashire remains the heart of the piece, continuing to establish herself as one of the absolute queens of the small screen. She is utterly believable, so very human. Moving effortlessly from humour to tragedy just like real people do. The ensemble cast around her is mostly equally stunning. Each character from the first season growing a bit more, and the new characters this season stepping right into the middle of things. Many of the names and faces are familiar from other UK shows, but previous roles soon fade away. There are unfortunately a couple of roles that feel a little over the top and clumsy at times, most notably the painfully simpering Frances who had a strange accent that never quite settled with me.
Happy Valley is one of the best television shows on at the moment, on either side of the ocean. It’s hard and brutal, but not an episode goes by that doesn’t also make me laugh, smile and often well up a bit too. It may be getting more improbable, but even if the whole of the next season was about sheep rustling, I’d watch it in a heartbeat.