As with so many television programmes these days, it has taken me an inexplicably long time to get around to watching Scott and Bailey and sure enough once I started, I found myself mainlining all three series in advance of the new series starting on ITV. And sure enough, I loved it. Sally Wainwright is one of our best writers of television without a shadow of a doubt and no matter what she turns her hand to, she barely puts a foot wrong, all the while pushing the boundaries of conventional drama to become infinitely more inclusive, whether through the older characters of Last Tango in Halifax or the fierce and flawed policewomen of Happy Valley and Scott and Bailey.
Scott and Bailey grew out of an original idea by Suranne Jones and Sally Lindsay which Wainwright has written up into three (plus one to come) series of fantastic television. Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey are both DCs in the Manchester Metropolitan Police, part of the MIT team that deals with serious crime. And though it may seem trivial to say it, it is just so brilliantly and so casually feminist. The vast majority of the major roles in the police force just happen to be taken by women – Amelia Bullmore’s DCI Murray heads up the team, Pippa Haywood’s DSI Dodson is the next later up, the main pathologist goes by the name of Scary Mary…and none of it is ever an issue.
A show like Prime Suspect had its own battles to fight 20-odd years ago and so it is instructive to see a world that has moved on some, not enough by any means but some indeed, and entertaining to see it presented so well in the acuity of the writing, in the quality of its leading performances from Jones herself and Lesley Sharp, and an excellent supporting cast – Tracie Bennett, Sean Maguire, Nicholas Gleaves, Rupert Graves and the glorious Nicola Walker are just some of the names that appear – that accompany them through the trials and tribulations of dealing with crime, and a whole load of personal drama, in the north-west of England.
The series’ arcs manage that tricky act of balancing the personal and private lives of the two women really quite well. Series 1 sees an unsolved murder from Janet’s past come back to haunt the team while Rachel deals with a tempestuous affair with a married barrister that threatens to derail both their careers; Series 2 sees the impact of that relationship still reverberate horrendously through her family’s lives whilst Janet’s own marriage implodes; and Series 3 (my favourite) thrusts Amelia Bullmore’s Gill front and centre in a chilling long-running story that allows Nicola Walker to deliver some most powerful work indeed.
If you haven’t been watching the show and you want a boxset to fill these ever-darkening nights, I can highly recommend Scott and Bailey. It’s a convincing crime procedural first and foremost, that it’s a refreshing change to the usual male dominance here is by the by in the end, a part of the show to be sure but by no means its raison d’être and so there’s no excuse not to like it really!