This month, season 2 of the PBS Masterpiece series All Creatures Great and Small had its U.S. premiere, and I had it pre-purchased and ready-to-go on good old Amazon Prime well in advance.
This is one of the few series I just couldn’t wait to dive back into for several reasons. Many of these reasons, as well as how much the tales of James Herriot meant to me, I talked about last year in my post “A Coming Home to Darrowby”.
Instead of retelling that lengthy story, I’ll give you just five short reasons I hope everyone is continuing their journey into Darrowby with me this season.
First off, the seasons are relatively short. They are seven episodes each. This includes the BBC standard of a season-ending Christmas episode. With an average running time of 50 minutes, you could breeze through the season in a week watching just one or two a night. The binge commitment isn’t too intense, but it is the content that brings you back. We rewatched season 1 before the second season was available for us, and even knowing all the plot details, the jokes, and revealing moments, it was still just as enjoyable. I can’t say this about many of my other favorite shows or movies, as the “surprise factor” is always a big draw for me. Returning to familiar territory and being just as entertained was a plus.
One of the main reasons people are drawn to animal-centric stories and movies is we all know when it comes to scene-chewing stars, animals will always outshine humans. This was true even when I first read James Herriot’s books. From the return of Tricky Woo to the showdown with an angry pig, it is always a hilarious reminder that animals rule their world… we just live in it. Herriot’s look at the lighter side of his work was so well-written, it helped me make it through the books’ inevitable heartbreak of dealing with the loss of a pet or family member, to living “between the wars.” Life is filled with hardships and sadness, neither of which is ignored in these tales, but it also has plenty of joy and fun. The show also makes sure all the humor isn’t focused on experiences with animals. The human actors get many chances to shine on their own. It is the story that will draw you in, but it’s the sweet humor that will keep you around.
Even series I enjoy thoroughly tend to have one or two actors who just make me cringe, be it their voice, their mannerisms, or the way they deliver their lines. That is just human nature, I guess. We all have that closet critic in us when watching a favorite series. I have yet to encounter that person on All Creatures Great and Small, even the ones playing characters that aren’t appealing. The primary cast of Nicholas Ralph, Samuel West, Anna Madeley, Callum Woodhouse, and Rachel Shenton have all fallen into their roles even better this second season, and there have been no weak links in the supporting cast members (at least so far). My one worry was the replacement of Dame Diana Rigg as Mrs. Pumphrey. Rigg, who passed away before the filming of the second season, is a tough act to follow, and her replacement, Patricia Hodge, is noticeably younger. Other than that, she seems to be making the role her own, while making sure her co-star Derek (Tricky Woo) takes the lead. This is a case where everyone genuinely looks like they are loving being part of this series, and it shows.
So often, when a series or movie representing a different era is made today (including those based on well-loved books), it can go in one of two directions. It can be so innocent and sweet it is nauseatingly saccharine. On the other side, it can so overworked for today’s sensibilities it is hardly recognizable to those who loved the original source material. Either direction can end up a bit preachy. This has not been the case here. There is a loving and sincere effort to stay true to the spirit of Herriot’s original stories, yet with enough changes to keep the story flowing and interesting. There is no agenda of keeping every tiny detail of the book exactly intact, or in trying to rewrite the history of the era. It only wants to tell us a good story. Fortunately, James Herriot’s tales give us a wonderfully welcoming starting point to do this. If you have never read Herriot’s books, you can still enjoy this story. If you are a long-time fan, you will still be satisfied with this new version.
As I mentioned in my look at season 1, the actors and animals are almost upstaged by the gorgeous landscape of the Yorkshire Dales and the historic Grassington playing the part of Darrowby. One of the reasons we get absorbed in certain stories is good world-building, be it traveling to another galaxy or another time. After watching just a couple of episodes of the original season, my old desire to someday visit the Yorkshire Dales was renewed. By this point into season 2, I just want to spend days—weeks even—exploring the region. I want to drive or walk along the green moss-covered rock walls. I want to place my feet in the icy river waters, and stroll along the main street on a star-filled night. The treatment of time and place is so thoughtfully done, by the time you finish the series, you may feel the longing as well to visit Skeldale House for a warm tea or cozy breakfast or join in the gatherings at the Drovers Arms (the Devonshire Hotel in the real world). The setting just wraps around you like the arms of a long-lost family member, and you won’t want to leave.
If you haven’t yet found time to return to Darrowby, I still recommend you do so. The series has already been renewed for a third and fourth season. Bring along your Wellingtons and good jacket (for it does get chilly), a tissue or two (there will be some tears), and most of all an open heart to embrace the warmth and love that continues to go into this delightful series.