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TV Review: Broadchurch

August 10, 2013

broadThe BBC series Broadchurch, already critically acclaimed in its home country, crossed the pond Wednesday night to premiere on BBC America. The eight-part series follows the murder investigation of 11-year-old Danny Latimer, who is found dead on the beach of his small tourist-town home, Broadchurch. The show is yet another in a series of somber murder mysteries being exported to and adapted for American audiences. In the past months Top of the Lake, about a young girl’s disappearance in an isolated New Zealand town aired on Sundance Channel and The Bridge, based on a Scandanavian series, brought us a bordertown murder story on FX. Each show, including Broadchurch, is impeccably written, acted, and produced, so it isn’t by any fault of Broadchurch but viewers may tiring of the premise.

Another recent BBC series, The Fall, which aired after Broadchurch in the UK, can now be found on Netflix. The show, starring Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame, is a different murder mystery story than Broadchurch: it is set in the city vs the close knit Broadchurch, a character study of both the murderer and the head detective vs Broadchurch’s whodunit plot, but the tone of the two shows is startlingly similar. From pacing, to music, to lighting, it is as though these worlds could intercept. A key player in The Fall heads off on vacation at the conclusion of the first season (or series if we’re being British). Perhaps they were headed to Broadchurch.

Take Broadchurch individually, or even with TV’s current murder-mystery saturation, and it is still enjoyable and worth watching. The first episode establishes its key players, but goes beyond that, and using its small town set up, promises to weave a web of intrigue by showing us so many more. An early shot follows Danny’s father Mark (Andrew Buchan) walking through town, giving a hello to everyone he sees. All of these people reappear. It is as though there were no extras cast, only townspeople. A man standing next to his car in a traffic jam, later turns up as the town coroner.

David Tennant, most known for his role as the tenth Doctor in the Doctor Who series, is helped by his previous role. As The Doctor, Tennant was talkative, bouncy, and often cartoonish, giving his quiet, serious, and realist DI Alec Hardy a presence and weight that surprises.

Olivia Coleman takes on the role as DS Ellie Miller, a character just back from maternity leave who must investigate the murder of her eldest son’s best friend. In the recent trend of cold and tortured detectives, Miller’s human reaction to the events is refreshing. She cries when informing the Latimers of their son’s death, she needs a hug from her husband, she’s human. The writing takes her so far, but it is truly Coleman’s subtle portrayal that makes her accessible to the audience. She becomes the eyes through which the audience experiences the story.

Broadchurch is excellent in its own right, but it risks obscurity as part of a trend. Patterns of the genre’s current style pop up and can feel arbitrary, most notably the music and introductory scene.  Once past these however, and into heart of the story, Broadchurch becomes a great mystery for the audience to unfold.

Broadchurch airs Wednesdays at 10 on BBC America.