Twin Peaks. Sunnydale. Castle Rock… America’s TV monopoly on small towns where Weird Stuff Happens has gone on for too long. Britain was once home to The Wicker Man, Children of the Stones and The Prisoner, all classics of the ‘something’s not right here’ genre. Isn’t it about time the UK put a few creepy burgs back on the map?

Actor and debut screenwriter Andrew Buchan (Better, The Crown) must think so, and his answer is ITV’s Passenger – a six-episode mystery series that’s Happy Valley meets…well, no spoilers here. Comedic and sinister with a terrific cast led by Loki’s Wunmi Mosaku, Passenger, from the producers of Gangs of London and Chernobyl, is a top binge-watch that’ll keep you entertained and guessing – hopefully into a second series and beyond.

Mosaku (Lovecraft Country, Luther) plays Riya, a police detective who, years earlier, left her job at the Manchester Met to follow her husband back to his Lancashire hometown. Their plans for a house and kids went awry, leaving Riya stranded in Chadder Vale, where the most exciting crime to investigate is the disappearance of local recycling bins. Or so she thinks…

What follows is a decent crime story about a recently released prisoner, plus a conspiracy of a much stranger nature, all wrapped in a very likeable and dry Northern comedy. Think In the Flesh without the supernatural edge, Happy Valley with it, or an extended Black Mirror spin-off. Passenger fits somewhere in between them all.

The series does a lot well all at the same time. It spins several plates successfully, drawing viewers into its characters’ lives while piquing our interest about the strange goings-on in Chadder Vale. The cast is filled with welcome and familiar faces, from Coronation Street’s Debbie Rush to This is England’s Jo Hartley, Shameless’ David Threlfall, Sean Gilder and more. Young actors Rowan Robinson, Ella Bruccoleri and Arian Nik stand out as the next generation of Northern talent.

Mosaku capably anchors the lot as Riya, who’s not just cut from the same cloth as Sarah Lancashire’s character in Happy Valley, she’s even wearing her scarf. Riya is tough, funny, world-wearily acerbic and you absolutely wouldn’t mess, but you absolutely would want her on your next night out, downing pints and murdering Justin Bieber songs on the karaoke. She’s a TV character it’s very easy to spend time with, and a proven type.

That’s because Passenger is a TV-literate show. Its characters reference Twin Peaks, Doc Martin, Scandi crime-drama… even Broadchurch, in which creator Andrew Buchan memorably starred. It knows what’s come before in the genre and manages to make self-aware comedic nods without losing the tension it builds surrounding its central mystery.

What mystery? Well, there’s trouble at the bread factory. And a missing shipment. A dead stag has been torn apart on the forest road. A local girl has gone missing and she’s not the first. Chief Constable Linda (Jo Hartley, bringing joy with her every line delivery) doesn’t want to hear it, but Riya’s instincts are telling her there’s more to Chadder Vale than meets the eye.

An unusual conspiracy unfurls around some very solid dramatic storytelling, both elements directed well by Doctor Who’s Lee Haven Jones and Pack of Lies’ Nicole Charles. Rowan Robinson is excellent as Katie Wells, a young woman who wants more than her one-pub, one-factory hometown can offer. There’s a very mild thread of social comment about the stifling lack of opportunity in small Northern towns and how communities behave under pressure, but the politics are all with a small p.

The ongoing mystery is one attraction, but that likeable cast, Mosaku, and the show’s sparky dialogue are its real draw. Chadder Vale might be a small town, but it’s one with a big personality. Binge it, recommend it, and there could be more where that came from.

All six episodes of Passenger are streaming now on ITVX. Episodes one and two are airing at 9 p.m. on Sunday 24th and Monday 25th March on ITV.

The post Passenger Review: Don’t Miss This Twisty Brit Mystery appeared first on Den of Geek.

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