Top 5... - June 15, 2015

The Casual Vacancy (and five of the best shows set in small towns)
by James
James
by James hmv London, Bio "Like the legend of the Phoenix, I've just eaten a whole packet of chocolate HobNobs..." Editor, hmv.com

The Casual Vacancy (and five of the best shows set in small towns)

When JK Rowling began writing her first novel since the phenomenally successful Harry Potter series, she considered releasing the book under a pseudonym. That's hardly surprising; the eight books she wrote featuring the young wizard make up the biggest-selling literary franchise in history, shifting an estimated 450 million copies, spawning a multi-billion dollar movie franchise and transforming the author from an unknown writer juggling a career and single parenthood into one of the richest women in the country (in 2003 the Sunday Times' Rich List famously placed her at No. 132, 11 places above The Queen).

That kind of legacy is enough to make anyone a little jittery about the idea of moving away from the formula that has brought so much success, but although using a pseudonym is something the author has since done with her crime novels Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm, under the name Robert Galbraith, in the end she decided that her first post-Potter novel, The Casual Vacancy, should be published under her own name. She needn't have worried – the book shot straight to the top of the best-sellers list and in no time there were TV producers circling with the idea of transforming the book into a series.

Directed by Jonny Campbell and adapted for television by screenwriter by Sarah Phelps and Rowling herself, the three-part TV adaptation of The Casual Vacancy began airing on BBC One in February this year and features an impressive cast that includes Michael Gambon, Emily Bevan, Rory Kinnear and Keeley Hawes.

Like the book, the series is set in the sleepy fictional town of Pagford, where the death of beloved parish councillor Barry Fairbrother (Kinnear) leaves behind a vacant seat on the council. When an election is called to find a replacement, rivalries begin to break out between the candidates and factions develop, leading to a split in the local community.

Things get worse when several of the candidates' children begin posting anonymous – and revealing- comments on the council forum, uncovering extra-marital affairs, starting rumours and raising tensions in the small West Country town to breaking point.

Much like Broadchurch has done in recent months, The Casual Vacancy explores the idea of how small, close-knit communities react when presented with a dramatic turn of events and while on the surface much of the drama centres around gossip and hidden secrets, at its core The Casual Vacancy is a story about responsibility and its absorbing storyline is aided by some great performances from the cast, particularly some of the younger actors like Joe Hurst and Abigail Lawrie.

If you missed the series when it originally aired, don't worry – The Casual Vacancy arrives on DVD this week (June 15th) and you can watch the trailer for the series below. In the meantime, we've picked five of our favourite TV shows depicting life in small towns to keep you occupied..

(To check out any of the products in our online store, click on the respective title). 

 

 

 

Broadchurch

The aforementioned ITV drama series Broadchurch is the most recent to capture big drama in a small town. Revolving around the disappearance and murder of a young boy, Chris Chibnall's drama stars David Tennant and Olivia Coleman as the detective duo tasked with solving the crime and finding out which one of the sleepy town's residents is responsible.

Full of intrigue and suspicion, Broadchruch sees a tight-knit community tearing itself apart and also benefits from some brilliant on-screen anti-chemistry between Tennant and Coleman. If murder mysteries are your thing and you haven't already caught the series, this will be right up your street.

 

Deadwood

While most TV dramas tend to take place in fictional settings, HBO's Deadwood takes its name from a real place in South Dakota. Spanning three 12-episode series, Deadwood is set before, during and after the American Civil War, during which time the mining town of Deadwood found itself outside the boundaries of both the Northern States and the Southern Confederacy, meaning that the town was not part of anyone's legal jurisdiction. The result is a town that is, quite literally, lawless.

Revolving around the life of Al Swearengen - the real-life owner of the town's Gem Theater, a notorious brothel – Deadwood stars Ian McShane in the role of the infamous pimp and details the spit-and-sawdust life of him and the town's many other nefarious occupants. If you're a fan of Westerns, you won't want to miss this.

 

South Park

It may not carry the dramatic weight of some of the other inclusions on this list, but the foul-mouthed comedy series from Trey Parker and Matt Stone has, along with The Simpsons and Family Guy, become one of the most popular animated shows on TV. Set in the fictional mountain town that gives the series its name, South Park is rumoured to be based on the small towns in Colorado where the show's creators grew up, lampooning some of the bigoted and downright bizarre characters found in some of America's more insular communities.

If you're easily offended then South Park probably isn't the show for you, but with nearly two decades' worth of material behind them in which the show's creators mercilessly poke fun at everything from Scientology to Kim Kardashian, South Park shows no sign of mellowing and if you're new to this riotous and ruthless comedy there's heaps of back catalogue to delve into.

 

Twin Peaks

Hailed by many as a masterpiece, David Lynch's strange and atmospheric murder mystery starring Kyle MacLachlan has become a cult favourite. Appearing as FBI agent Dale Cooper, MacLachlan is brought into investigate when the body of a young woman named Laura Palmer washes up in the small Washington state town of Twin Peaks. As the strange story unravels, so does Agent Cooper's sanity as he uncovers a web of intrigue and mystery surrounding the girl's death.

There's good news too because, 25 years after the series aired, David Lynch has a second series underway that's due to air in 2016, so if you've never seen the original series then now is the ideal time to start catching up.

 

The League of Gentlemen

The nightmarish fictional English town of Royston Vasey is said to be an amalgamation of the different small towns that The League of Gentlemen's creators grew up in, but here the vivid imaginations of Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith combine to create a macabre and terrifying vision of life a rural northern town.

Among Royston Vasey's colourful characters are a cursed vet that inadvertently kills every animal he comes into contact with, a pre-op transsexual taxi driver and choirmaster that looks as though he shouldn't be allowed within 200 yards of a school – and that's before we've even mentioned Papa Lazarou. Darkly comic and wonderfully original, The League of Gentlemen isn't your typical depiction of small town life, rather it is all your nightmares about small town life writ large on the screen. Watch it if you dare...

The Casual Vacancy
The Casual Vacancy BBC One

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