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Having just concluded on the BBC, all six episodes of the second season of British crime drama Happy Valley land on Netflix in North America on Wednesday almost 18 months after its much-talked-about first run.
While much of the chatter about U.K. shows becoming hits in the U.S. revolves around butlers, inheritance and, ideally, at least one country estate (indeed, Netflix has ordered the big-budget The Crown based around the British monarchy), Happy Valley appears to be bucking the trend for upper-class period drama.
Described recently as the “British version of The Wire,” the show — created, penned and directed by BAFTA-winning writer Sally Wainwright — is based around the Calder Valley in the northern English county of Yorkshire, a mostly rural setting but one some distance from that of Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle, and far more regional than most other cop series.
“I think people are beginning to take more risks with what I’d call less posh British drama, because I think Happy Valley has proved that it doesn’t have to be about a group of rich people living in a stately home,” says Nicola Shindler, the show’s producer and head of the Manchester-based Red Production Company, which is also behind such hits as Queer as Folk.
At Happy Valley’s heart is actress Sarah Lancashire, already an established name thanks to her long spell on British soap Coronation Street, as police sergeant Catherine Cawood, a character as deep as the likes of The Wire‘s McNulty and far closer to such grittier, embattled lawmakers than the likes of Idris Elba’s tough-talking Luther or even the emotionally damaged detectives on Broadchurch.
Shindler admits that Happy Valley “felt quite local and specific” when the team first started making season one, which was “never made with an international audience in mind.”
But she said there was an instant reaction from the U.S., both from within the industry and outside, which she said she “didn’t see coming.”
While Netflix — naturally — doesn’t provide any figures, even to the show’s producers, Shindler says she can only go on the level of response received. “We did have a lot of the audience getting in touch, so much so that when we were filming the second series and did a special screening we had Americans turn up,” she says.
Given comparisons to The Wire, are there plans for Happy Valley seasons three, four and five?
“We’re talking about further [seasons], but we haven’t got any decisions at the moment,” says Shindler. “It’s about finding the right story to tell and working with Sarah and Sally to make sure that it’s as good as the first two [seasons] — that’s what we all want to do.”
Given that the second season averaged some 6.5 million overnight viewers in the U.K. (more than even the hugely hyped The Night Manager), with 7.3 million tuning in for the final episode on Tuesday, a return to the murderous goings on in rural Yorkshire seems almost inevitable.
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