‘Unanimous victory seemed certain’: the biggest mistakes from the 2024 TV Baftas

<span>Note-perfect … Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley. </span><span>Photograph: BBC/Lookout Point</span>
Note-perfect … Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley. Photograph: BBC/Lookout Point

A while ago, it might have felt like the Baftas didn’t really need to put on a big awards ceremony this year. That isn’t because shows like this are becoming less and less relevant with every passing year, but because of Happy Valley.

Every single thing about the third series of Happy Valley was blisteringly impressive. The writing was note-perfect; able to puncture moments of colossal tension with a warm turn of phrase. The performances, too, were about as good as you can get across the board. Even the idea of the series – patiently waiting for seven years before returning, so that Rhys Connah could naturally age into the role Sally Wainwright wanted to tell – was extraordinary. Happy Valley felt so far ahead of the pack that unanimous victory seemed certain. They could have just mailed a crate of trophies to Sarah Lancashire’s house and saved money on the ceremony.

Related: Bafta TV awards 2024: the full list of winners

But that isn’t what came to pass. Yes, Sarah Lancashire won an award for leading actress. And, yes, the final showdown between Catherine Cawood and Tommy Lee Royce won the P&O Cruises Memorable Moment Award, beating off the mighty challenger that was David Beckham sticking his head through a door like in all those memes on Instagram. But that was it. Siobhan Finneran didn’t win supporting actress. Amit Shah didn’t win supporting actor. James Norton wasn’t even nominated, which surely had to be an administrative error. And best drama went to Top Boy, a show arguably best known for not being quite as good as Happy Valley.

Actually, that’s unfair. By the end of its run, Top Boy had blossomed into something sprawling and epic, and the fact that it has been able to hold its ground against bigger and splashier shows is proof of quality enough. Plus Jasmine Jobson, who won supporting actress last night over big names like Elizabeth Debicki and Lesley Manville, has clearly got a long and bright future ahead of her. I’m being sour. It’ll pass.

Of course, there is a very good reason why Jasmine Jobson beat Elizabeth Debicki and Lesley Manville. This is because Elizabeth Debicki and Lesley Manville were in The Crown, which transformed into an absolute mess by its final series. An incoherent muddle from start to finish – thanks to its strange insistence on not seeing Queen Elizabeth’s reign out to the end, plus its cavalier attitude towards ghosts – The Crown went home empty-handed last night. That certainly wasn’t a surprise.

Related: TV industry in turmoil, says Floella Benjamin, as Bafta hands out the gongs

What was a surprise, however, was Class Act winning the international award. A seven-episode French drama from Netflix about the life of Bernard Tapie, a flamboyantly ambitious businessman-slash-singer, Class Act was fine. However, without exaggeration, it was nominated against some of the best television programmes that have ever been made. It was up against The Last of Us, a show that proved emotional heft could be wrung from a video game. It was up against Beef, the brilliantly propulsive revenge show. It was up against The Bear, which is The Bear for crying out loud. It was up against the final season of Succession, a run of episodes that felt like they literally stopped the world turning for a couple of months last year.

And yet Class Act triumphed over all of them. This is both a good and bad thing. Good because people are undoubtedly going to head to Netflix this week to see what all the fuss is about. Bad because when they finish, they’re going to realise it isn’t a patch on The Bear, Beef or Succession, and they’ll trust Bafta less next year as a result.

There were a scattering of other surprises last night. Squid Game: The Challenge won the reality category against ITV’s genuinely lovely dating show My Mum, Your Dad. Strictly beat Michael McIntyre’s Big Show for entertainment programme, despite being old and tired. Scam Interceptors won the daytime slot, even though it feels like the last 20 years of daytime television have been filled to the brim with identical shows with identical premises.

Mainly, though, this was the year that Happy Valley only got a fraction of what it deserved. Still, at least Tommy Lee Royce died winning the P&O Cruises Memorable Moment Award. That’s something, right?