One of the trickiest aspects of a crime drama series to get right is how much of the detectives life story should be shown. Too little and it seems irrelevant and little more than filler to make up for weaknesses else where in the story. Too much and the we end up with a drama about a detective not about the crime. This is fine if that is the intention of the programme, but all to often it isn’t. The whole ‘damaged detective’ trope is a cliché anyway, making it a risk to include it all.

When it is done well though, the show reaches another level. Scott & Bailey is an example of personal stories adding to the plots, rather than distracting, or worse, detracting from them. Rachel Bailey is a young, ambitious detective constable. She comes from a family background consisting of runaway, alcoholic parents, criminal siblings and a general who load of unhappiness heaped on her shoulders. She is tough and resilient, yet also vulnerable and prone to judge those involved in her personal life badly. These small error of judgements demonstrate just how trapped she is by her background, and the more she tries to escape it, the more it encroaches on her job. Suranne Jones is brilliant at playing this, but she has been compelling in every role she played. Karen McDonald is much missed on Coronation Street, although my favourite role of hers is when she played the TARDIS in human form in Doctor Who.

Bailey is contrasted with Janet Scott is a forty-something acting detective sergeant. Her marriage crumbled after her own lapse in judgement, but she is general the more capable to live with the consequences of her actions. Her mentality is much more stable, and her success is more of a by-product of natural hard work rather than the result of a striving ambition. There is an element of ‘working mum balancing family’ itself a well-worn characterisation, but the fact this is played subtly by Lesley Sharp and written carefully by Sally Wainwright means that this family dimension makes Scott more well-rounded, rather than a character being flung about just to prove a point about how difficult everything is.

The crimes aren’t pleasant (episode one of this series involved a severed head) but nobody watches a crime drama to see a box of kittens dance about. And there’s a wonderful vein of gallows humour that feels real to the environment: it is the most obvious coping strategy to being surrounded by such awful acts. The best lines belong to DCI Gill Murray (Amelia Bullmore, another actress who frankly should be more celebrated than she is), another woman who juggles work and family, and like Scott focuses on this balance rather than complaining about it. I hope we see some scenes with her and Pippa Heywood’s DCI character: the banter between the two of them can steal an entire episode from the hands of everyone else.

With all these strong women, should I be concerned that all the men are either evil, nice-but-dim, or just dim full stop? Well, I would be, if it wasn’t for the fact that even if there were ‘perfect’ men in the show, they wouldn’t get the airtime to really shine. Let the women man the fort this time around, makes a change for them to be the solvers of the crime rather than the brutalised victims of it.

 

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