TV COLUMN: Happy Valley, X-Files, Cliff Michelmore, Paul Daniels

James Waller Davies
James Waller Davies

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

If police and crime dramas are your piece of cake, then the new year has served you up gluttonous banquet of near Bake-Off proportions, with seemingly a new batch being turned out almost weekly.

The best of the year so far, Happy Valley (BBC1), came to an end this week, enhancing the reputations of all involved, not least writer/director, Sally Wainwright, and lead actor, Sarah Lancashire.

Balancing character and plot is a tricky tightrope to cross. Too much of the first and you lose track of why you’re watching. Too much of the latter and characters are reduced to little more than cyphers, signposting blunt clues.

Wainwright’s Happy Valley has drawn in hyper-reality and cast of believable, living characters in a crime drama that gripped to the very end and with a very chilling coda.

Line Of Duty, which returns soon, has carried the torch for ‘realistic’ police drama for a few years now, but even before its forthcoming third series, it looks a little jaded by comparison. The jury will have to wait on that one.

Also coming to the end of its short re-emergence is The X-Files (Channel 5). A few weeks ago this column suggested the Mulder/Scully reboot would be a good buy for Channel 5 and so it has proved. It’s been 5’s most watch programme every week, though viewing figures have fallen from week 1’s 4.6 million down to 2.98 million by week 3.

Clearly, X-Files’ loyal cult base tuned in to see the old friend, but then realised the long-lost pal had changed and subsequently started tuning out again. It’s been a sad shadow of its former glory. The writing was tired and David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have struggled to keep it going.

The final episode’s cliff-hanger, with Scully desperately trying to save the dying Mulder’s life may have been better served by a bit of helping euthanasia for both Mulder and the franchise.

Ironically, over on yet another free-to-air channel, Spike, time travel is real and the first series of The X-Files is being reshown. It’s got a vibrancy to it. Mulder has got that eager-to-believe look in his eye and Scully is still a bushy-eyed sceptic. Back on Channel 5, they’ve just seen it all before. And so have we.

In what is sadly becoming almost a regular feature of this column, there were yet another two deaths this week of people who helped define British cultural life. Cliff Michelmore, television presenter, and Paul Daniels, magician and entertainer, were both in their zeitgeist the most popular and most watched personalities on television.

Michelmore defined the role of the current affairs presenter/interviewer, coving such iconic moments as the moon landings, general elections and the first interview with a young Davie Jones – later to become David Bowie – leading a campaign to prevent the bullying of men with long hair.

Paul Daniels was part of the last generation of a certain style of light entertainment programme which died out in the 1980s. His Saturday evening magic show was family viewing in an age when the family really did sit down and view together.

It was an uncynical age, when some well-crafted magic tricks, a chirpy manner and an assistant with a smile could attract audiences of 16 million. Back then talent got you on TV and then you became famous – unlike today when nobodies are famous just for being on a talent show.