As some readers may recall, about a year ago we discovered “Breaking Bad” on Netflix, in which seemingly mild-mannered chemistry teacher Walter White transforms himself into feared crystal meth lord “Heisenberg”, and my wife promptly became addicted to it. (The show, not crystal meth.) After we ran out of “Breaking Bad” episodes, my wife charged me with finding another show that was just (or at least, almost) as good. That search did not go well … until “Happy Valley” came along:
“Happy Valley“, which is YANOS (“Yet Another Netflix Original Series”), has a plot that is broadly similar to the Coen brothers’ classic film “Fargo” (nebbish employee asks employer for more money, is rejected, and as an alternative source of funding instigates a kidnapping plot against a member of employer’s family, then gets hunted down by female police officer), but with most of the black comedy and satire removed. “Happy Valley” plays the scenario almost entirely straight. This is not a bad thing, of course, just a different thing; don’t go in expecting any humorous fleeing of interviews or accomplices in the wood chipper, and you’ll be fine.
I learned about “Happy Valley”* from a highly favorable review by Emily Nussbaum (another recovering “Breaking Bad” addict) in The New Yorker. Nussbaum describes the main character, Catherine Cawood (played by Sarah Lancashire), as looking like the singer Adele, “if Adele were a detective, a grandmother, and a dedicated agent of vengeance,” which is a pretty accurate description, overall.
Anyway, based on that review and the strength of the first installment, we went ahead and binge-watched the entire first season** of “Happy Valley” over the last week or so. “Binge-watching”, for us, consists of watching maybe one episode a night, but as season one consists of only six hour-long episodes we still wrapped things up pretty quickly. Not a single one of the episodes put my wife to sleep, and although she did come close to nodding off towards the end of one or two of them, a wake-up nudge brought her back to finish each of them off in a single sitting. The plotting is tight and the performances are excellent, and although no character is quite as compelling as Gus Fring or Walter White, they are still all well-drawn and nicely rounded. Should you choose to watch it, you’ll quickly be rooting for Catherine to make good on what she tells her sister about her plan to handle her own personal reasons for despising the most odious of the villains: “I’ve no intention of dealing with it rationally. My intention is to deal with it effectively.” And that’s before she knows he’s a kidnapper. Thugs of West Yorkshire, beware!
* It turns out that Dennis the Vizsla already knew about “Happy Valley” way back in September after reading Mango Momma’s August review of the series. He promised to tell me about it, but failed to do so. Bad dog.
** Word has it that Netflix has ordered a second season of “Happy Valley”. Although we’ll probably check it out, my wife is ambivalent: “I think they already told her story. A second season seems like milking it.” As far as she’s concerned, part of the brilliance of “Breaking Bad” was that the creator had a story to tell about Walter White, and he told it, and then he ended it. I can’t say she’s wrong!