Scott and Bailey – Series 5 (ITV 2016) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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I love Scott and Bailey.  I had thought that with Suranne Jones’ success in “Dr Foster” that we might have seen the last of this Manchester-set Police drama so I was delighted to see it back for Series 5.  There are only three episodes but I know that for the next three weeks this is going to be the highlight of my television viewing.

There have been changes.  Amelia Bulmore is no longer in it as Scott and Bailey’s boss, DCI Gill Murray and I still haven’t got over the departure of Tracie Bennett who was absolutely brilliant as Rachel Bailey’s Mum.  Also, Sally Wainwright, writer of the exemplary “Happy Valley”  who created this alongside Diane Taylor has handed on the script-writing duties.  The whole conception of the show is fascinating, if a little complex.  The idea was originally drawn up by Suranne and co-star Sally Lindsay, who plays her sister,  who were lamenting the lack of strong parts for women.  They took it to Nicola Schindler of Red Productions who commissioned Sally Wainwright to produce a script.  ITV felt it needed a bit more work before they green-lighted it so Wainwright joined up with Diane Taylor, an ex Detective Inspector from Greater Manchester Police to add that touch of authenticity.  It shows that it is very much a labour of love from all the women concerned and its strength has always been in its depiction of women, aided by a superb cast.  By the last series Amelia Bulmore had written a number of episodes and put her character very much through the wringer as she struggled to cope with alcoholism.

Scott and Bailey’s two Sallys – Wainwright and Lindsay

This is a drama which has always held its “Coronation Street” credentials close.  Set in Manchester with Jones and Lindsey and Bulmore all much- loved Street alumni.  This connection goes further as writer of this episode (and a number of others) is Lee Warburton, who apart from being the first man I have mentioned in relation to this programme also took his turn in the Street as Tony Horrocks (1995-8).

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At the start of the episode Rachel (Surrane Jones) has returned after a year in London, where if the brief montage shown was anything to go by she had a good time.  She turns up back at her old job after her secondment in vice without having told best friend Janet Scott (Lesley Sharp) that she was back.  I was initially a little concerned because what you need in this programme is someone to rankle Rachel and put her back up as this is what Jones is so superb at (cf: “Dr Foster) and I thought that their boss had always served this role but new character Anna (Jing Lusi) will fill this gap with aplomb.  There was (as there was in “Happy Valley”)  a wonderfully excruciating moment when someone takes banter too far .  In this case it was Anna who had got inappropriate by saying “the bitch is back” about Rachel and got the Suranne Jones hard stare which may even eclipse the force-field of a Sarah Lancashire “Happy Valley” hard stare.

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Keeping the comparisons with “HV” going is that both shows have real humour in the blackness and the humour is driven by the writing and characterisation.  When Rachel arrives at the crime scene after a year away she is greeted by  the on-site pathologist, Scary Mary, with “Hello stranger.  Put on weight?  We need to crack on.”  Rachel, whose sister is staying with her at her flat has a fondness for air fresheners, Bailey tells Scott, “The other morning I woke up, I thought I’d been embalmed” and when Rachel is appointed Acting Detective Inspector for the case she is told by her superior, Supt. Julie Dodson (Pippa Haywood), “Be ready to brief a Gold meeting at 12 and don’t come dressed like Little Mix”.  Warburton in his scripts has not abandoned the two locations which really brings out the best in the characters – the ladies loo (about 20 mins in) and having a cigarette in the alley (about 30 mins).  These are Scott and Bailey essentials as it is the scenes between Jones and Sharp which add much to its greatness.

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There’s a pretty explosive plot going on as well, it’s not all fag and loo breaks.  This is intense, modern crime where phones and computers play a part.  There’s serial killing going on, fairly randomly and it becomes evident from the Dark Net (still never sure what that is although as Rachel says “It’s not illegal to use the Dark Net” it always seems to bring up things that are) that someone is killing and filming and it could be a grisly version of “Dare” that the police officers are dealing with.  Technology is moving so fast that the police cannot keep up with it.  A potential love interest for Rachel if the twinkle in his eye is anything to go by SCAS Neil Simpson (Gregg Chillin who despite his name previously smouldered throughout “Da Vinci’s Demons”) tells her, “In terms of internet crime the police are like your granny trying to programme the video player.” How our use of modern technology is impacting our lives is also brought home dramatically for Janet whose family is plunged into chaos caused by boundaries being overstepped.

I would imagine (although I don’t want to know) that this plot line will continue for the three episodes as it is a crime spree which has continued for seven years I don’t imagine it will be solved too quickly but I will be there hanging off every line and watching the best girl-cop duo ever (yes, it far eclipses “Cagney and Lacey”) and some of the best performances you’ll see this year on television.

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Scott and Bailey Series 5 began on ITV at 9.00 pm  on Wednesday 13th April.  It is available on catch-up on the ITV hub

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Happy Valley (Series 2) -BBC 1 (2016) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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I watched the first series of “Happy Valley” on DVD not too long ago.  For some reason I missed out when it was first shown in 2014.  I think I buck the current trend for the box-set guzzling which is changing the face of how we watch TV, in that I often like to have the week-long gap between episodes and I felt that this was very much the case with “Happy Valley”.  Watching the whole series over a couple of days I could appreciate how good it was but it was all a little too intense and grim to be called enjoyable.

For Series 2 I’m reverting to traditional viewing methods – every week at 9pm on Tuesdays.  So far there have been two episodes and on the basis of these this second series is outstanding.  It was one of the many TV shows that I originally thought should stick at just the one series – I didn’t want these characters to be put through any more misery.  I still haven’t got over “Broadchurch” series 2 which managed to diffuse some of the power and television magic of the first series and I’m already getting anxious about a “Dr Foster” Series 2, but maybe “Happy Valley” has restored my faith a little.

Let’s begin with the writing.  Sally Wainwright began her career working on scripts for “The Archers”  and “Coronation Street” (I’ll come back to that later).  I never really fancied her “Last Tango In Halifax” although now I know I’ve missed out.  For me she really came up trumps with “Scott and Bailey” – the ITV police drama which features four of the best parts written for women in recent years, the two title roles (Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones), their boss DCI Gill Murray (Amelia Bullmore) and in the third series Rachel Bailey’s mum played by Tracie Bennett.  Three out of four of those actresses established themselves in “Coronation Street” (I’ll come back to that again later).

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Wainwright’s writing is spot on.  It is dialogue that can turn on a knife edge.  The series opener began with Police Sergeant Catherine Cawood and her sister Clare in conversation about Catherine’s day at work.  What starts off as a humourous story about urban sheep rustling turns decidedly grisly, then veers back into black comedy and then becomes deadly serious with an unexpected development all in the space of the first five minutes.  In Episode 2 a jokey bantery scene between Catherine and her team switches instantly once a foolhardy PCSO oversteps the mark.  These changes of mood and tempo are something which Wainwright always does so well.  This has the effect of having you hang on to every word and holding your breath when watching.  (I do this with “Scott and Bailey” as well as “Happy Valley”).

Now the casting.  It seems at last it is being recognised that “Coronation Street” alumni are amongst the best actors on television.  The casting team of “Happy Valley” know this as four of the main parts have been given to strong ex-Corrie character actresses- Sarah Lancashire, Katherine Kelly, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Amelia Bullmore (again).  All are turning in exemplary performances showing there is life after the cobbles and I’ve now forgiven all of them for leaving “Coronation Street” well before their time was up.

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From the Street To The Valley

Famous faces from other shows are also excelling – Siobhan Finneran (Benidorm/Downtown Abbey)  is reprising her role as Cawood’s sister.  Back in 2000 Lancashire and Finneran worked closely together on a superb episode of the series “Clocking Off” (Yvonne’s Story – Series 1) which showed the strength of the chemistry between these two and I’m delighted to see them back together.  (This will be my last reference back to “Coronation Street” but this episode featured in the role of Lancashire’s children Jack P Shepherd and Tina O’Brien in their pre-Street casting as the Platt brother  and sister they’re still both playing today).   The outrageously versatile James Norton, fresh from his turn as heroic love interest Prince Andrei Bolkonsky in “War & Peace” is back to scare the living daylights out viewers as Tommy Lee Royce.  Of the new faces Finneran is joined by Downtown Abbey cast-mate Kevin Doyle (who’d have thought we’d have seen Mr Molesley’s bum on TV?) who’s playing a blinder and from episode 2 an excellent performance from veteran actress Angela Pleasance as neighbour Winnie.  Shirley Henderson is absolutely spell-binding as Royce obsessed Frances Drummond.  In the series opener there is an extraordinarily disturbing prison visit where by just sitting too close to Royce she is speaking volumes about the character.

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Two episodes in and I’m confident that Sally Wainwright will be able to entertain, thrill and horrify me in equal measures.  I have absolutely no idea where the series is going and don’t want to know, no plot-spoilers from me here.  I would expect this to be recognised by Bafta as was the first series and it could end up being one of the TV highlights of the year.

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Happy Valley is broadcast on BBC1 on Tuesdays at 9pm.  Episodes should be available on the BBC I-Player catch up service.