Happy Valley: Season 2

happy_valleyI 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.

The Wire: Seasons 1 and 2

The WireWay back in 2008, I was already late to the party in watching the Wire and then, when I’d eventually turned up, I had the nerve to suggest that it wasn’t that great a party anyway!

I can appreciate the quality of this show, but I didn’t really get into it. It’s a show that really has to be watched as a season rather than individual episodes, and I took longer than I usually would to watch 13 episodes. This meant I continually lost track of who was who and what was going on. Gritty realism is good, but unfortunately an element of that realism is a lack of clarity in dialogue and recapping what’s happening. Maybe I was just too sleepy and not paying attention. I did really enjoy the characters (or at least those I could tell apart). It was also surprisingly funny, including some real laugh out loud scenes and lines. I think I’ll try to revisit this series at a later date so I can appreciate it more.

It’s taken me SEVEN YEARS but I finally got round to that revisit when I spotted it as a box set on Sky. I re-watched the first season and then went straight into the second, so I’ll sort of review both alongside each other.

This time I did watch it more condensed, working my way through both seasons in a few weeks. I also had a tendency to not worry about watching a whole episode, frequently stopping in the middle and coming back to then watch another couple of hours the next night. This approach seemed worked a lot better to keep momentum going, the seasons are definitely more like very long films then episodic television.

It also helped me keep track of characters and the intricate networks of relationships and structures that made up criminal and police teams alike. But, it was still not 100% successful. In both seasons I struggled to keep track of the players in each criminal network, often not knowing if I was supposed to recognise someone or should have been making connections myself. I did find though that if I didn’t worry about it and just let it all sort of wash together, it seemed to be ok.

I was a bit unsure about the second season which introduced the entirely new story around the docks on top of the leftover elements of the drugs business from season 1. It felt like there were too many different threads, particularly given that most of the police team were divided up too, and I wasn’t quite sure who I was supposed to be focussing on. It took almost half the season for me to really settle into it and even then the occasional swing of focus back to Stringer Bell and his enterprise felt like a distraction that undermined the impact of the ‘main’ storyline.

I’m enjoying watching the series, and do find myself drawn into coming back to it and watching more at the detriment to other current series that are backing up. The humour that runs through it is very well done and when any of the characters actually gets a bit of time they’re all entertaining and interesting. But I don’t quite see why it’s held up in such hallowed tones. I guess at the time it was something very different, but now, maybe it’s just not as outstanding thanks to the quality that it encouraged in others.

Grey’s Anatomy: Season 11

Grey's AnatomyThe show that just keeps going. Of the original interns, only Meredith and Alex are left, of the original ‘grown ups’ only Bailey and Webber (who will forever be The Chief). Only four of the original cast that made me fall in love with the show are still there by the end of this season. The cast has seen some other great characters come and go over the years, but even someone like Callie who has been there since season 2 feels like something of an interloper. So when this season we had to adjust to the absence of Christina and then say goodbye to Derek the show should have suffered.

But it didn’t. Watching Meredith adjust to being without Christina and watching her relationships with other characters grow to compensate was absolutely fascinating. I particularly love her relationship with Alex. Evil Spawn has come a long way and yet is still true to the somewhat obnoxious character he was on day one. He and Meredith *get* each other like no one else really does, probably not even Derek or Jo. Watching him become ‘her person’ was so satisfying.

Then with the loss of Derek, Meredith has to grow all over again. I have never been a fan of Derek and am not particularly sorry to see him go. As Christina said, he may be dreamy (although he doesn’t actually do anything for me), but Meredith is the sun. It’s more interesting to see the effect he has on her than it is to watch any of his self-important preenings. The fact that he went out in such a stupid way (doing a 3 point turn on a blind bend and pausing to find his phone, I mean, come on) was quite fitting I thought.

While Rhimes may not be particularly great at writing good leading men (President Grant on Scandal is even worse) she excels at relationships. There were 14 main characters on the show this year and just about every connection had depth, all completely grounded and aware of the complicated shared histories. Every time there’s a reference to an event in a previous season I give a little cheer; the connections of love, betrayal, frustration and forgiveness are all there and all track through.

Fundamentally this is a soap. So the plots have to occasionally be ridiculous. There have to be so many life events to drive narratives that it can become repetitive. There are little tricks used to change things up, the turnover of characters helps there, as do things like accelerating timelines so we don’t have to spend a dozen episodes watching people slowly mourn. The medical cases are pretty daft, the emotional manipulation pretty blatant and the number of workplace romances likely to drive any HR department to drink. But it doesn’t matter. I love it. I love these characters (the ones that are present and the ones that have gone) and I can’t wait to see what ridiculous things are thrown at them next.

The Upfronts 2014: Syfy

syfyWhat’s Dead
Warehouse 13’s final season concluded a little while ago with the same level of insanity and entertainment that it’s had for five seasons. The US version of Being Human managed four seasons (one less than the UK), but thanks to longer seasons it was actually 15 episodes longer.

What’s Returning
defianceHaven and Lost Girl will both return for fifth seasons later this year, Continuum is currently in the middle of its third season and Defiance will return in June for its second season. The truly awful Helix has somehow got a renewal for a second season next year and Something called Bitten that I’ve no recollection of hearing about but wasn’t surprised to find out is about werewolves, will also return for a second season.

What’s New
Ascension (trailer, November): It’s a spaceship!!! A six hour “event”. 50 years ago the spaceship Ascension, carrying hundreds of people set off to populate a new world, now half way there a murder causes everyone to question their true mission. Sounds and looks intriguing.

Dominion (trailer June): Set 25 years after the film Legion, it’s a war between angels and humans. The trailer needs considerably better actors. Also what’s with the dramatic single word names? Defiance, Ascension, Dominion…

There are also mentions of a new version of Blake’s 7 (yeah, believe that one when I see it!) and series based on the films Unbreakable (this year) and 12 Monkeys (Jan 2015).

The Upfronts 2014: AMC

amcWhat’s Dead
Low Winter Sun set after just one season without much fanfare as it arrived or departed. Breaking Bad finished up back in September, just creeping its way into eligibility for this year’s award season. Mad Men is dawdling its way towards a conclusion, they’re splitting season 7 into two chunks, the first half is just wrapping up, while the second half will arrive the same time next year.

What’s Returning
The Walking DeadThe Walking Dead shows no sign of slowing and has surprisingly not run out of either characters or ammunition yet, season five will start in October. Hell on Wheels will start its fourth season later this year. The American version of The Killing (Forbrydelsen) was cancelled after its third season (after also being cancelling after the second season), but it’s been picked up by Netflix for a fourth season. It’s seems the show just won’t die.

What’s New
Turn (Trailer, already airing): set during the American Revolutionary War, looking at the unlikely group of New York farmers who spied on the British for General Washington. I’m not sure of the international appeal of this story and the trailer looked utterly rubbish.

There are lots of pilots listed as being under consideration or even ordered, but I wouldn’t really put money on which, if any would make it to air (although the Walking Dead spin-off would seem the safest bet). A couple of note-worthy ones:
Preacher: based on the supernatural comic series about a small town Preacher in Texas who’s possessed by the offspring of an angel and a demon. He then sets off across the US trying to find God and understand his powers. I think Supernatural did this plot already.
Area 51 (a “contemporary conspiracy thriller revealing the true story behind the infamous Area 51”, created by Chris Carter of The X Files),
The Sparrow based on Mary Doria Russell’s incredible book, but written and produced by the man who brought you The River and Paranormal Activity 2. No. Just NO!

The Upfronts 2014: Showtime

showtimeWhat’s Dead
Only one show ending on Showtime this year, Californication is just finishing up its seventh and final season

What’s Returning
Shameless and finished its fourth season a couple of months ago and will be back next year for a fifth. Homeland will return later this year for a fourth season, if anyone still actually cares. Ray Donovan and Masters of Sex will both be back very soon for their second seasons. Nurse Jackie will be back next year for its seventh season. Episodes, House of Lies and Web Therapy have all been renewed for fourth seasons, but air dates seem a little vague.

What’s New
Penny Dreadful (trailer, already started): Clearly inspired by American Horror Story, Showtime brings some pretty creepy, gruesome and scary stuff to the screen, drawing from existing characters from 19th Century literature such as Dorian Gray, Dracula and Frankenstein. It’s already a few episodes in and started in the UK on Sky Atlantic (who co-produced the show) last week.

The Affair (no air date): The impacts of an affair. Not much of a plot but a stunning cast – Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson.

Happyish – I would imagine is on hold, it’s the Philip Seymour Hoffman comedy series that he was working on when he died.


The Upfronts 2014: HBO

hboWhat’s Dead
HBO is pretty good about giving its shows a season’s notice of cancellation/retirement so several shows are both dead, but returning. True Blood’s upcoming 7th Season and Boardwalk Empire’s 5th Season will both be their last, both of which are pretty good showings. Less than impressive, The Newsroom’s 3rd season will be its final one having lurched between incredible and insulting.
Three other comedies of 2013 never made it out of their first season – Hello Ladies, Family Tree and Ja’mie: Private School Girl. No one seems to be mourning them.

What’s Returning
Game of ThronesGame of Thrones still has plenty of pages of books to trudge through and its ratings are still incredible, so I think it will be around for some time. True Detective got rave reviews from everyone except me and is expected to return for a second season, although it’s likely to be new character and actors.

Curb Your Enthusiasm is still listed as a current show even though there’ve been no new episodes since season 8 in 2011, apparently they’re “cautiously optimistic” of a 9th season, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. Veep and Girls have both finished up their 3rd seasons and been renewed for fourths, while Looking (which could be called Boys) will be back early next year for a second season. Getting On and Silicon Valley are also new comedies which will return for a second season late this year or early next.

What’s New
The Leftovers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Shn1mPejr_4, starts June): 2% of the world’s population just vanished, these are the people who are left behind. This looks impressive, not exactly cheery, but certainly worth a look.

Togetherness (later this year): Absolutely no details available beyond it being a comedy from the Duplass brothers, considered the founders of “mumblecore” (low budget, amateur actors, natural dialogue). Can’t say I’m overwhelmed with excitement.

Four other shows are apparently greenlit but with no dates and very few details available. The Brink is a “dark comedy” about the US Secretary of State, starring Tim Robbins and Jack Black. Hopefully it’s not just a variation on a theme of Veep. Bailers is a half hour comedy starring Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson ass a retired athlete. Masters of the Air will be the follow up to Band of Brothers and The Pacific, and they’re also remaking the Channel 4 show, Utopia