I’m trying to make your life easier here: Sherwood is your next must-watch show

A perfect portrait of an east Midlands town with arrows flying and a murderer on the loose, this is a crime drama in which the actual crimes are way down the list of what’s gripping about it

You’re going to have people telling you Sherwood (Monday, 9pm, BBC One) is very good over the next few weeks so we may as well start now: Sherwood is very good. I think it’s important to get ahead of this.

Right now, we live in a high-intensity cultural age when there is at least one bingeable, talked-about TV show every week and somehow you have to watch all of them, the instant they come out and before anyone can spoil them for you, across 10 platforms that all need their own subscription. I do not think this is a good thing, but it is our reality. This is going to happen with Sherwood, and I am telling you now so you don’t get caught out. “Have you seen that BBC One one? By the guy who did Quiz. What’s it called?” This will happen at work or at the pub. Someone is going to drily click their fingers three times while telling you about it. “Set in an old mining village that’s rocked by a double murder. Have you watched it? It’s really good. What’s it called? It’s really good.” At some point you’re going to watch a dramatic moment from the show on Gogglebox while Lee and Jenny gasp – so, again, it’s best for you to watch it before that happens. I’m just trying to make your life easier.

We’ll start with how good it is and move on to how interesting: first, everyone is absolutely acting their faces off, which is always enjoyable to watch. There’s a sprawling and talented cast – David Morrissey and Robert Glenister are great as jousting co-investigators who can’t suss each other out, Lesley Manville and Claire Rushbrook are similarly brilliant as jousting sisters who can’t suss each other out, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Adeel Akhtar be bad in anything (but he’s really good in this). As a portrait of a tiny town with sedimentary layers of neighbourly beef, political quarrel and two people who are mad at each other because one of them said something off-key about the other 28 years ago, it’s almost exhaustively dense, and the first episode is a perfect chess-setting of all the pieces in play.

Bolt … Adeel Akhtar as Andy Fisher in Sherwood.
Bolt … Adeel Akhtar as Andy Fisher in Sherwood. Photograph: Matt Squire/BBC/House Productions

A lot of shows lately have been really obvious about introducing us to the main players, who they are and where they’re going with this. Sometimes it feels as if you don’t even have to watch beyond an opening character montage to know what’ll happen over the next six episodes. Sherwood has the opposite feeling, as if you’ve wandered into a conversation you missed the start of and have to piece together pertinent details while the plane is in flight – and it’s so much better for it.

What’s interesting is to see the concept of “the city can be a main character, too!” applied to a small village in the east Midlands, instead of London or New York, yet again. The east Midlands is one of the strangest places in the UK, because it’s not quite the north but definitely not the south, and has this liminal identity you don’t see on TV much. Sherwood isn’t just about the broad-stroke, bubbling-pot stuff that sets a place like this on edge – a Tory councillor trying to break down the “red wall”; a historic spat about the miners’ strike; dwindling industry draining even more wealth out of an already poor area; new middle-class money judging the working class even if they are related to them; neighbours watching absolutely everything you do.

The series captures the area in every last detail, too. Gardens on slopes. Front doors that open directly into living rooms from the street. Pyrex jugs of gravy. Saying “gi’ore”, saying “duck”, holding a personal grudge against someone who lives two streets away for almost three decades. A looming adult son who never says anything. Trains with only two carriages. And everyone has a weird personal preference about which of the doors of their house you are allowed to knock on and gets angry if you forget. I grew up in the east Midlands, and seeing this made me ... well, not miss it exactly, but crave a walk into town for a big ham cob where I get suddenly, viciously drizzled over on the way back.

Oh, there’s a murderer on the loose, I should have mentioned that. There are arrows flying around and you’re not really meant to mention Robin Hood even though you want to. But for a murder drama – and we have so many of them, now – the people dying and the way they die is fourth, maybe fifth down the list of what’s going on here. Sherwood is very good, then. If you watch it from the first episode, you can finally be the one making everyone around you feel bad for not catching up.


Joel Golby

The GuardianTramp

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