Someday classes will likely be taught about “Gracepoint,” the Fox series remake of BBC America’s far superior “Broadchurch,” seeking to decipher what was lost in translation. On its merits, though, the season (and likely series) finale, which divulged the killer’s identity, merely reinforces the experiment as a failed one, especially in this age where so many first-rate British dramas are readily available in the U.S. via one platform or another.
The program’s showrunners Anya Epstein and Dan Futterman had stayed rather coy about how much they would tinker with Chris Chibnall’s creation going forward, which included the possibility of changing who the murderer was. That seemed interesting, or at least, a way to keep the TV critics who had so admired “Broadchurch” guessing. (What follows will contain SPOILERS both about “Gracepoint” and the original “Broadchurch.”)
Ultimately, though, the scenario was almost exactly the same, with a twist: Danny had been killed while he was with Joe (Josh Hamilton), the husband of the detective (Anna Gunn) who had been investigating the case – brought about by Joe’s strange, unsettling relationship with the dead boy. Yet the producers made one gratuitous, wholly ridiculous change, having Danny’s death actually be caused by an accidental blow inflicted by the detective’s son.
The dad, in other words, was covering for his kid, out of a sense of guilt. And the mother — in her anger — ultimately allowed him to do so.
To be honest, I was one of the few reviewers who didn’t completely fall for “Broadchurch,” perhaps because the payoff – having the murder strike so close to home – felt to me like a cliché. It was enough, given the suspenseful buildup, to somewhat undermine what had preceded it.
Yet the main wrinkle thrown in to differentiate “Gracepoint” – and the silly, cryptic closing moments – made the original seem like perfection by comparison. And at least the first series was masterful in terms of atmosphere, pacing and performances, much of which didn’t survive the flight across the pond.
The altered finish followed what had felt like a shot-for-shot remake of the first couple of episodes, with mild detours in the middle, but nothing that seriously departed from the program’s basic direction, scattering red herrings to keep the audience off-balance. As a result, my initial reservations about the show gradually multiplied.
Even the usually brilliant David Tennant, playing the driven investigator in both shows, struggled with the nondescript accent he had adopted, and the coastal setting lacked the same ambience and sense of economic malaise as its British counterpart.
On the plus side, “Broadchurch” will return for a second season beginning in February, although it’s fair to harbor some skepticism about continuing a story that felt so self-contained.
Obviously, this was the year to roll the dice on limited series – programs with a beginning, middle and end. “True Detective,” “Fargo” and “American Horror Story” cast long shadows, and offered inspiration to explore the form.
There have also been no shortage of U.S. series effectively adapted from British formats, from “All of the Family” to “The Office” to “House of Cards.” For all that, given the way “Gracepoint” fell short – before finally falling apart – in this case, that third title would have been just as appropriate.