The title is an ironic nickname for a northern town where things are anything but. Cop Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) leads the kind of life that lesser mortals would have ended swiftly with whatever came to hand. Now her work life threatens to butt head-on with her personal life and things are looking bleaker than ever.
Sally Wainwright's recent 'Last Tango in Halifax' was a critical and ratings success, with astute scripts and performances from a collegiate and superior cast. Gentle humour sprinkled a strong tale of rekindled love and family relationships that was sometimes very dark indeed, but the overall light and shade, affecting characters viewers cared about, made it a watch-or-record must. Therein lies the first difference from her new series. Sarah Lancashire plays hangdog so well she can darken any room in which she appears on screen, which is quite an ask for a whole hour. Here, she even looks joyless while having furtive sex with her ex-husband (Derek Riddell).
The other main claimant on our sympathies is Kevin Weatherill (Steve Pemberton) as a basically decent everyman whose moment of explosive anger lands him in deep, very dark waters. There's a problem for us with Kevin, though, because his anger is directed at his boss Gallagher (George Costigan) for not giving him a payrise... to pay for his kids to go to public school. He has a disabled wife, so maybe we should praise him for his honesty when he could have played on sympathy for her, but it's hard to feel for someone who plans to extort money via kidnapping an only child, just so his offspring can avoid a state education. It's not the moral grey areas that are the main problem - they're what made 'Breaking Bad' so compelling after all - but the uneven tone. There's something whimsical about Kevin, and about Catherine when she spills her life story to a stoned teenager on a housing estate (who may be about to unwittingly set himself on fire) but a story involving rape, suicide, kidnapping, drug deals and delinquency sits oddly with this kind of humour.
It's probably too early to judge the Valley, and it may settle into its stride as it moves forward. This was very much a set-up episode where the main action happened in the last fifteen minutes. We'll stick around for next week's, which needs nonetheless to offer more than this one has promised.