I quite enjoyed last night’s premiere of BROADCHURCH on BBC America, but I definitely didn’t see anything that was very “new” or “groundbreaking” — which is the way the series is being sold. BROADCHURCH is a police procedural about the murder of an 11-year-old boy in a British seaside town, and how the killing affects everyone in town.
Perhaps its storytelling is new for a series in the UK, but BROADCHURCH reminded me instantly of TWIN PEAKS, but without the supernatural elements: the death of a child shakes a small town to its core. I expect future installments to reveal the dead boy Danny was involved in a secret conspiracy that affects a lot of adults in town and reaches into the local school — just like Laura Palmer’s situation. It’s even mimicking the law-enforcement dynamic: the local cop who knows everyone in town teamed with the eccentric “expert” from somewhere else.
I’m not suggesting this is a bad thing; there are far (far) worse shows from which to draw inspiration, so BROADCHURCH is on solid footing. It also reminded me a bit of THE KILLING — except that BROADCHURCH has actual narrative energy and appears to be interested in its own story, unlike THE KILLING.
David Tennant makes for an interesting lead — and not just because he was such a compelling 10th Doctor on DOCTOR WHO. Tennant is a positively magnetic screen presence, and hearing his native Scottish accent differentiates him from the Time Lord. (Well, that and his current hairstyle, which is literally the opposite of his Doctor’s pompadour.) Although we know next to nothing about his Detective Inspector Alec Hardy, the seeds for an intriguing character are there; he’s thoroughly dedicated and professional, and yet there’s some cloud hovering over him relating to his professionalism. I thought it was very interesting the way Alec had to stop and psych himself up to view the body. From his reaction, whatever that black mark on this record is, it’s probably related to a dead-child case, and the last thing he wanted was another one.
Olivia Colman’s Det. Sgt. Ellie Miller is someone you don’t see much on American TV: a highly emotional police officer. Her tears surely would be condemned as weakness by U.S. audiences (and, doubtless, by women viewers most of all), but I think her instant visceral response to finding her son’s best pal dead makes her a very human character. The way she glared at Alec when he told her shut down her crying and be a professional said a lot about her philosophy of policing and her view of herself in her community.
Another very emotional character is Jodie Whittaker’s Beth Latimer, the mother of the dead 11-year-old. As one of the point-of-view characters that the audience needs to relate to, Beth seems to be a very realistic character. My favorite moment of the show came when Beth was caught in the traffic jam and heard the police had found a body. Her reaction — simply knowing it was her son’s body — was gut wrenching; the way the scene was shot — in silent slow-motion — was a brilliant decision by the director. (Also wonderful: the positively vertiginous views looking down from the cliffs at the tiny figures on the beach!)
The script did a good job of sketching in the small town where everyone knows everyone else, and giving us early suspects in the form of Danny’s father (Andrew Buchan), whose very sedate reaction to the death of his only son did not seem to be appropriate, and Jack Marshall (David Bradley), Danny’s creepy-looking, overly stern boss who doesn’t seem to like kids. The rest of the town seems poised to expose its secrets in future episodes, and I’m especially looking forward to more from Arthur Darvill (DOCTOR WHO’s erstwhile Rory) as Rev. Coates.
Speaking of Rory, it’s remarkable how many BROADCHURCH faces are familiar to fans of DOCTOR WHO: Tennant, Darvill and Bradley have all appeared on the legendary sci-fi series — and Bradley will be seen as First Doctor William Hartnell in this fall’s AN ADVENTURE IN SPACE AND TIME — while BROADCHURCH itself was created, written and co-executive produced by Chris Chibnall, who has written several episodes of DW and written for and been executive producer of TORCHWOOD. It almost makes one wonder just how deep the acting pool is, when one sees the same faces over and over. But at least they are all very talented.
So I will definitely be back for more dizzy thrills on BROADCHURCH.