|David Tennant and Olivia Colman star in "Broadchurch".|
"Broadchurch" airs Sunday nights on Showcase in Canada (episode 1 already aired this past week - watch it here). In the United States, it premieres tonight at 10pm on BBC America.
It's time for those who make television to understand that the best "crime dramas" are not really about the crime.
When AMC's "The Killing" ended its first season in June 2011, viewers and critics were understandable frustrated that a show with thin characters and thinner plots failed to tell them in 13 long, slow hours whodunnit, despite a promotional campaign that leaned almost exclusively on the question "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" They grew tired of the blatant red herrings. They grew tired of the cliffhanger endings that almost always cleared a suspect in the first five minutes of the next episode. And after the finale, the conversation become one about tiring of the season-long, murder mystery format altogether.
Last year, I marathoned my way through "Veronica Mars" with a good deal of skepticism. Some swear by the show and in the end I was satisfied with its first season. But I couldn't help but feel like by the time I got to the end of hour 22, I was gonna be left feeling duped. I was going to have invested a lot of time into what would eventually be a twist ending that rang false based on what I had come to know and love about the residents of Neptune, California.
And thankfully, that didn't happen. What was most bizarre about the whole thing, though, was that I never even finished the first season of "The Killing". A show's supposedly horrible twist ending was so bad, based on all the terrible things I'd read about it, that even that was enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth about season-long mystery shows in general.
A statistic often tossed around in business classes, job training, and the Internet in general states that a customer who has a positive experience doing business will tell about three or four people. If they have a negative experience, they're more likely to tell about nine or ten. Yes, the Internet in general is loud and obnoxious and it's the only place where vocal minorities make even the tiniest waves. This isn't a new concept. They're the people who popularized the idea that "Lost" had a bad finale because it didn't answer every last question and tie up every single loose end (where did Kate's horse come from?!?!?!) ever presented in the run of the series.
But after so many people had a bad experience with "The Killing" and told nine or ten friends about it, they were able to watch three or four new similar dramas that were much better and tell three or four friends about each of those. A genre that was ready to be sworn off based largely on one show has thankfully been redeemed with superior outputs like Sundance Channel's "Top of the Lake," Netflix's "The Fall," FX's "The Bridge," and now "Broadchurch" (this could be reverse applied to how tired everyone was of serial killers on TV with terrible shows like "The Following," only for "Hannibal" to come along and remind us that there's still material to be mined from the genre).
On the Dorset coast of England lies the town of Broadchurch, population 15,000. It's a town whose local newspaper, the Broadchurch Echo, "celebrates the ordinary" according to its reporters. There's very little crime in the area - the occasional DUI is reported, along with some small drug busts. It's not a town where you'd expect anything to happen. Until 11-year-old Danny Latimer washes up on the beach - dead. And suddenly, no one is innocent, and no one is safe.
Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) is returning from maternity leave only to discover that the job of Detective Inspector she was promised has instead been given to Alec Hardy (David Tennant), an investigator with a troubled past. The two are reluctantly paired together on the case of young Danny's demise, each attempting to reconcile the personal and professional aspects of the case. Hardy's desire to identify a killer lies much more heavily in demons from his past, while lifelong Broadchurch resident Miller knows the Latimer family well and finds that keeping her personal connection separate from the investigation is actually not as hard as she initially thought it would be.
"I hate what I'm becoming," Miller tells Hardy in the fourth episode.
"A good detective?" Hardy asks.
"Hardened," replies Miller.
When the eight episodes are over, you will learn who did what to Danny Latimer. But far more importantly, you'll learn what everyone else did to each other, and that's what makes "Broadchurch" worth your time. While a child is dead and police are trying to figure out why, a town virtually free of crime is dealing with an unexplainable outlier of a tragedy. Friends, neighbours, and even family lose all sense of trust as suddenly, this supposedly peaceful seaside paradise (which looks great thanks to director James Strong) has become a place where nothing is sacred and anything can happen. And none of it is played sensationally - the show remains simple, realistic, and at times unsettlingly relatable.
Also making "Broadchurch" worth the journey is its outstanding cast, led by Tennant and Colman. I had only seen a couple episodes of his work as "Doctor Who" so I wasn't overly familiar with him as an actor, but here (using his native Scottish accent), he sells the hell out of Hardy's damaged and unrelenting drive to bring justice not just to the Latimers, but for himself as well. And it's been quite a while since I was blown away by a performance as much as I was by Colman, who I had never seen in a dramatic role before. I've long known Colman for her work with British comedy duo Mitchell and Webb, playing a number of roles on their sketch shows "That Mitchell and Webb Look" on TV and "That Mitchell and Webb Sound" on radio - she also played the love interest, Sophie, for many years on their Channel 4 sitcom "Peep Show". More than anyone, Miller struggles with accepting that the bloom is off the rose in Broadchurch and by the last episode, she's just as much an emotional wreck as the viewer is from watch Colman play her.
It's always unfortunate when a show like this comes along on the heels of things that have pretty much all but poisoned the water. But it can also be very refreshing to be reminded that even a familiar idea can feel new if the concept is simple and the execution is done correctly. So consider this my way of telling three or four friends that I had a very good experience with "Broadchurch".