TELEVISION: SCOTT & BAILEYTOP-NOTCH BRITISH TELLY

(I’ve been telling all who will listen about my love for British television for a good while now.  Heck, I love all European television – they don’t feel the need to make everything about being a fucking supermodel or fashionista.  They are also not afraid to show you a dead body that actually looks dead – brutally dead sometimes.  I like that.  Most of the time I enjoy being shocked by murder television.  Cop shows need to have grit to them, and they sure as fuck don’t need to be solved in an hour like every single American cop show is.  And hey, the good guys don’t always win either.  I’ve said this all before.  On a few occasions, I don’t mind having shit geared down a notch too.  I mean, some of the shows I quite enjoy don’t need to be all blood and guts – as long as the writing is top notch.  Well, I have been binge watching a British copy show about two female detectives trying to live their complicated and somewhat disastrous lives while solving some of the most brutal murder cases around the rougher parts of England.  Here’s a cool article from The Guardian about this great ITV production, Scott & Bailey.  Oh yeah, it’s available to binge watch yourself on Canadian Netflix. – FATS)

I never really got into Scott & Bailey (ITV) in a serious way, but I was always glad it existed, a bit like Jamie Oliver, or the Green Party. Its ingredients were top-notch British telly fodder: Sally Wainwright co-created it and wrote most of the first three seasons; Lesley Sharp, Suranne Jones and Amelia Bullmore led a doggedly solid cast; and it told working-class and women’s stories in a way that clearly hadn’t been manhandled by a posh male commissioning editor some way up the executive pay scale. Still, in spite of all this, I only watched it casually, and dropped off completely around the start of the second series. Now that I’m back, I’m not sure why I ever left in the first place.

We’re up to series four and there’s been a changing of the guard. Wainwright has stepped down, as she’s busy elsewhere these days, having created the outstanding Happy Valley and an imminent new series of Last Tango in Halifax for BBC1. She’s been replaced as writer by Amelia Bullmore, now juggling dual duties as she continues to play no-nonsense station boss DCI Murray. It’s largely as I remembered it: moderately gripping and watchable in the extreme. Yet it’s also far funnier than I recalled. It’s as if they took one look at Happy Valley’s unrelenting bleakness and misery over on the other side, raised a wry eyebrow and thought, “No, that’s not for us”. There’s a lovely bit of advice given by Scott towards the end of the episode: “You’re saying big things, and when you say things like that, there’s always a risk it will sound like bollocks.” Or take Bailey’s reaction to her interview for promotion: “It went somewhere between brilliantly … and shit.” I’m not suggesting this is the finest wordcraft on television, but it’s refreshingly unpretentious, blunt and, yes, funny.

This opener marks a confident, brisk return. There’s the main criminal investigation, in which vulnerable local boy Robin, also known as Twister (“Have you seen his face?”), has gone missing, and neither his family nor friends seem particularly inclined to help find out where he’s gone. His parents put him into care when he was younger, and he’s been a punchbag for the gang-affiliated locals at the pub where he washes pots since. His landlord, an ex-copper, is the only one who cares enough to report that he’s been absent from work for three days. Eventually, his body is found in a car submerged in a quarry, after a beating that finally went too far. It’s not a particularly complex case to crack, but the underwater-search lads also uncover another corpse, which may belong to a Mandy Sweeting, whose body has been preserved despite the fact that she went missing 20 years ago. And with that, the big storyline for the series is announced.

Scott and Bailey solve the Robin murder with quick, clean precision. In the grand tradition of detective dramas, they are painted as opposing personalities – Bailey (Jones) is the hot-head, and Scott (Sharp) the more measured, thoughtful type – but essentially they are cut from a similar cloth, which is competent, decent and likable. (Though I suspect that in my two series of absence, I’ve missed some serious plot points with Bailey – at one point she announces, “I haven’t sweated that much since I was arrested.” Perhaps her competence is another new development.)

The relationship between the two is what ties the show together. They’re such good friends that even after spending all day tackling crime in unison, they immediately get on the phone for their separate drives home, just to catch up on the life stuff they may have missed. Even when both are up for the same position – station sergeant – there’s no sense of rivalry, not really. Scott turns it down, for the sake of her kids. In less capable hands, this could have been a trite storyline, of the tedious “can women have it all?” variety, but here, it just feels like an honest way of portraying a difficult family situation. When Bailey gets the offer instead, and is sick from the sudden pressure, her friend is there to coax her through the vomiting. It won’t be smooth throughout the run: big boss Murray has asked Scott to keep her initial offer secret, and in scripted drama, a secret is a gigantic neon signpost pointing towards future conflict. But I like the easiness of the pair as friends and colleagues, and I hope those foundations remain intact, since I now appear to be back on board for the duration.

SCOTT & BAILEY TRAILER