Review: ‘Broadchurch’

"Broadchurch" review BBC America

Brooding BBC America drama recalls 'The Killing,' but doesn't equal Brits' best crime fare

Brooding and gloomy, “Broadchurch” is a grudgingly effective crime drama — managing to pull viewers through its grinding, “The Killing”-like paces even as its plethora of cop-drama cliches become increasingly aggravating and enervating. Like a lot of small towns on TV, this one is not what it seems, requiring only the shocking death of a young boy to scratch the surface and unleash all sorts of dark and sordid secrets. Although the Brits have developed a well-deserved reputation for gritty crime, this eight-part BBC America offering is a couple of notches below its best.

Created by Chris Chibnall (whose credits include the U.K. version of “Law & Order” and “Torchwood”), “Broadchurch” derives its name from the seaside community where 11-year-old Danny Latimer meets his grim end.

Much like “The Killing,” the multipronged plot focuses on his grieving family, journalists seeking a big break and, of course, two mismatched police investigators: newcomer Alec Hardy (David Tennant), who harbors secrets of his own; and the local cop passed over when he got the job, Ellie (Olivia Colman), whose role in the case is complicated by the facts she knows the dead boy’s family and has a son the same age.

The results are often visually striking, from the mesmerizing rows of identical housing to the sweeping coastal views. It’s only too bad the series doesn’t have more flair in terms of its narrative properties. Indeed, it would be nice just once to meet a new cop who wasn’t sporting a three-day-old beard and scars from a recent case that people keep referencing or who didn’t experience seizures at inconvenient moments. And the use of slow motion is as tedious as it is manipulative.

SEE ALSO: Fox Orders Brit Crime Drama ‘Broadchurch’ to Series

Yet even with those gripes, the story does drag the audience along, creating suspicions surrounding one character after another, and using the pain and loss of a single death to probe their individual stories. Part of that interest has to do with the strength of the cast, including Andrew Buchan and Jodie Whittaker as Danny’s parents.

This latest iteration on the protracted crime drama — teasing one investigation over an extended stretch, as opposed to the tidy resolutions of U.S. procedurals — also lends itself well to a European model consisting of shorter series orders, since it’s difficult to imagine something like “Broadchurch” being extended even a week longer. (Just witness the ruckus AMC’s adaptation of “The Killing” unleashed when it didn’t provide closure in season one.)

While the show’s payoff is likely to strike many as strained and unsatisfying, as well as disturbing, its raison d’etre is as much about the atmospherics and the getting there, with the twists trumping the actual whodunit.

“Who killed Danny Latimer?” won’t resonate like Laura Palmer, or even Rosie Larsen. But like Tennant’s dogged cop, those who commit to “Broadchurch” probably won’t want to give up on the investigation until they finally know who did.

Broadchurch

(Series; Wed. Aug. 7, 10 p.m.)

Production

Produced by Kudos and Imaginary Friends, and distributed by Shine Intl.

Crew

Executive producers, Chris Chibnall, Jane Featherstone; producer, Richard Stokes; directors, James Strong, Euros Lyn; writer, Chibnall; camera, Matt Gray; production designer, Catrin Meredydd; editor, Mike Jones; music, Olafur Arnalds; casting, Kelly Valentine Hendry, Victory Jenkins. 60 MIN.

Cast

David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Andrew Buchan, Jodie Whittaker, Vicky McClure, Arthur Darvill, Pauline Quirke, Will Mellor, Carolyn Pickles, Matthew Gravelle, Simone McAullay, Jonathan Bailey, Oskar McNamara, Charlotte Beaumont, Susan Brown, Adam Wilson, Joe Sims, David Bradley, Jacob Anderson.

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  1. Chris says:

    Looking forwards to seeing for myself as it airs tonite in Canada. US will ruin it as they did with Cracker, etc. UK even improved Law n Order when they got hold of it.

  2. aruka says:

    I’ve watched Broadchurch online and I agree with Rebecca and Arlene. Broadchurch is a masterpiece, well written, brillantly acted by the whole cast, especially David Tennant and Olivia Colman, a great story that is not the usual whodunnit stuff….I’ve just read that Fox is going to do an US adaption…the usual poor remake with just goodlooking people with perfect teeth and fixed expression instead of actors, and many more action and episodes, lots more twist at the final american style…maybe this will be more of your taste ..enjoy it, I prefer the original one

  3. Elie says:

    “Cracker” was also brooding, gloomy and grudgingly (or grungily) effective. The US version was terrible. US TV does a lot quite well. Adapting British crime dramas is not one of them.

    • Rebecca says:

      Not to mention the complete trainwrecks they made of two other positively *brilliant* shows that were ostensibly cop shows – Blackpool and Life on Mars … Broadchurch is some of the best tv I’ve *ever* seen (I bought the Region 2 DVDs, I have an all-region player so that I can) and American tv execs are unable to leave things alone. They will ruin it. I’m also flabergasted that they announced this before it’s even started airing in the US.

  4. Rebecca says:

    Arlene has said what I was going to in nearly the words I would have used… Commenting to add my voice and ask the reviewer how he can have such a completely opposite opinion to the facts that the show captivated all of the UK for 8 consecutive weeks, including all of the major newspapers (The Times of London, The guardian, The Independant, etc) running “Wow, wasn’t expecting that!” Articles on their front pages every week after the episode aired… I think you were intent on not liking it and/or just being contrary to be contrary… Shame on Variety for letting you.

  5. I’ve seen Broadchurch and you sir are dead wrong, This story is well written and brilliantly acted. It is well above 99% of most crime dramas. Because sir, you miss the point, this is not just about the crime but mostly about the effects of the crime on the people of the town. Which American crime drama does not do with their slam, bam, thank you mam approach to everything. Broadchurch takes the time to let the viewer get to know all the characters and care about them.

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