Mr Drew's School for Boys; Happy Valley – TV review

Whatever they're paying Mr Drew and his colleagues, it isn't enough

In a week when we've been painfully reminded of the fortitude of teachers, Mr Drew's School for Boys (Channel 4) takes Stephen Drew, the admirable deputy head from Educating Essex, and puts him in charge of a summer school for 11 temperamentally compromised boys. (Statistics show that boys are six times as likely to be excluded from primary school as girls.) He has four sun-dappled weeks to snatch these wild boys from the jaws of educational Armageddon before returning to his day job as head of Brentwood County high school. No summer holiday for him.

Drew is supported by an embattled bunch of colleagues, determined yet terrified at the prospect of 11 bad apples all in one barrel. The drama teacher sees his first lesson descend into a festival of punches, kicks and geysers of Buxton spring. He accepts he must do it all again tomorrow. You'd run, vault the wall and never look back, but these people carry on. And not, I suspect, just because the cameras are watching.

Ignoring the showbiz dictum, Drew willingly walks into the cage with children who behave like animals. His chair and whip are gentle sarcasm and an unshakeable resolve to stand his ground. He remains firm no matter how many insults or blunt objects fly past his ears, his short neck braced by collar and tie, holding his head unbending against the storm of pre-teen petulance. "You're a dark teacher," growls eight-year-old Max. "All you want to do is earn money. Why are you so fat?" When Max arrives he has a stubby, blond Mohican; a tiny Travis Bickle, hell-bent on destruction. Mum Ruth spends the first episode with her face tipped up to the ceiling to stop the tears from spilling over her cheeks. Crucially, the parents will spend as much time in lessons as their offspring, mostly learning how to say "no", it seems. Any opportunity for viewing parents to judge the methods of other breeders is horribly tempting, but Nick Frost's gently sympathetic voiceover avoids apportioning blame by inflection. No one is censured, only understood.

"If he smartened up his attitude and just accepted what I wanted to do, I would be fine." Not Mr Drew speaking there, but 11-year-old Clark, who is hanging upside-down and shirtless in a tree, refusing to keep an appointment with his mentor. He's savagely bright and talks with the insouciance of a middle-aged cab driver. "Some of the time I just stay in bed and relax on a school day," he says to the director, looking for all the world like Norman Stanley Fletcher, on his bunk eating macaroons.

Perhaps this is part of the problem. The one thing you don't want to give these showboating little Herberts is more attention. Follow them around with a camera and a boom mic and you're guaranteed to reinforce their self-righteous indignation. Somehow, Drew and his team surmount this and by the end of episode one, the story has led us to a happier place. A group visit to Chelmsford library brings about a startling change. Most of the boys say they don't like reading, but an hour spent on beanbags answering quiz questions and it's like magic gas has puffed through the air vents, quashing their rage. Whatever they're paying Mr Drew and his colleagues, it isn't enough.

A troubled son features in Sally Wainwright's confident follow-up to Last Tango in Halifax, the less jaunty Happy Valley (BBC1). Alanis Morissette would love it because no one in Happy Valley is happy. Sarah Lancashire stars as Catherine, a West Yorkshire police officer with a complicated home life. In an audacious bit of double-dealing exposition she tells a drunk about to torch himself on a climbing frame, "I'm Catherine by the way. I'm 47, I'm divorced. I live with me sister who's a recovering heroin addict. I've two grown-up children, one dead, one who doesn't speak to me and a grandson, so …"

But not all the dialogue is as clunksome and neat plotting slides the puzzle pieces into place. What begins as a melding of Last Tango and Scott & Bailey turns fully Fargo as we meet Steve Pemberton's disappointed accountant Kevin Weatherill. One minute he's grudgingly denied a pay rise, the next he's put in motion a kidnap he immediately regrets. I found his descent into the criminal underworld more believable than Martin Freeman's in Fargo. There's no one-dimensional wife urging him to earn more money, just a frustrated man reaching a point where he wants what's owing to him. Pemberton, like his League of Gentlemen colleague Reece Shearsmith, is growing into a considerable talent.


Julia Raeside

The GuardianTramp

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