TV COLUMN: Happy Valley, X-Files, Super Bowl 50, 6 Nations

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his views on some of the recent events on television.

I’ve taken a census of television world and extrapolated it to real life.

In TV world, 46 per cent of the population are police detectives, 31 per cent are chefs, 17 per cent do nothing but appear on panel shows – and the remaining whatever percentage are stuck on the roof of a building looking down on Albert Square, like a cockney Batman who’s lost his costume. Such is the thin variety of TV world.

And so another week, another police drama. Happy Valley (BBC1) returned for a second run and reintroduced us to Sergeant Catherine Cawood busily bashing a sheep out of its misery with a rock.

It was comic barbarism. The sort of thing you might expect if All Creatures Great And Small was remade by the same firm who do ISIS’s propaganda videos.

It might be just another one of what feels like a never-ending televised police convention, but Happy Valley has a streak of forlorn, tired, apathetic realism about it which marks it out.

Sgt Cawood, played brilliantly by Sarah Lancashire, projects an echo of the hard-boiled, seen-it-all, journeyman detective, Philip Marlow. A bit grizzled, often bashed up, cynical, and with foes on all sides. It’s unexpectedly refreshing, like a mug of cold coffee.

The 1990’s cult classic, The X-Files (Channel 5), has been returned to Earth after a 14-year abduction.

‘The truth is out there’ has been its mantra for almost a quarter of a century, but opening up the new series with a flying saucer crash and an alien being shot in the back and carted off has pretty much shot down all the mystery with it too.

The key to the old X-Files was Moulder’s belief in just about anything, pitched against Scully’s pragmatism. Yes, the truth might be out there, but Scully probably wasn’t going to believe it anyway.

Moulder is the embodiment of a conspiracy-theory nutcase. The sort of people who tell you the moon-landings took place in a shed in Arizona, that Lord Lucan lives in the Bermuda Triangle, and that Elvis died in 1977.

We’ve all met them, especially since the internet got going and a quick Google of just about anything will prove anything is true, or false, depending on one’s personal paranoia perspective. And the best conspiracy theories are the ones which can’t be proved. They just keep on running and running.

The new series had all the old tropes, as though someone had unpacked the footlocker at Area 51. UFOs, government cover-ups, MIBs and Moulder skulking in the shadows while Scully tries to shed some light. It’s all cliché, but you can’t tinker with a cult.

The X-Files is a good buy for Channel 5 though. It’s a show with a huge cult following who will watch it unquestioningly. And at its core is the enduring chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, even if both look a little more middle-aged and old enough to know better.

Super Bowl 50 (BBC2) was a Sunday night all-nighter. The culmination of the American football season played out over 5 dark hours as the Denver Broncos took on the Carolina Panthers.

A strange concept, the Super Bowl. You’d be easily forgiven for thinking it a sporting occasion, but in reality it’s a TV advert extravaganza with a pop concert in the middle of it. In between the 5-hour commercial break, you get the sights and sounds of very large men smashing helmets together.

Granted, I’m not American, but I couldn’t help feeling it all looked a bit like a fancy dress game of British Bulldogs, with Beyoncé doing a turn at half-time.

The 6 Nations (BBC and ITV) kicked off this week. England beat the perpetually optimistic, though eternally losing, Scots, whilst Ireland and Wales fought out a draw amongst the all the adverts on ITV.

New to ITV, the 6 Nations is not the same as on the Beeb. Whilst the match itself isn’t interrupted, the pundits get a fleeting few seconds for something sage, before the audience is whisked off for a sales pitch.

It’s the thin end of the wedge. Rugby coverage will end up like the Super Bowl: ‘we end this run of flowing back play to bring you a message from our sponsors…’ Trust me, stranger things have happened – just ask Moulder and Scully.