Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday Best: TV Dramas of All Time #22 - Broadchurch

(2013 - Present)

Broadchurch is another relatively young show.  It is a BBC original that has all the makings of a typical police procedural.  A young boy named Danny Latimer is found murdered in a quiet, Seaside English town.  The chief investigator is Alec Hardy (David Tennant), a big city detective who has been exiled to this tiny hamlet because of a mysterious scandal.  His investigative partner is Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman).  She is friends with the victim's family and is not prepared for the intensity that befalls their small town, an intensity like nothing before.

The entire first season deals with this murder mystery.  Unlike other shows that have tried this format, like The Killing, Broadchuch delivered not only a taught mystery but some of the strongest emotional punches I've ever encountered on a TV show.  The pain of Lattimers is excruciating.  The desperation of Hardy and Miller is palpable.  The fear in the community is seething.  And the conclusion of the mystery left me affected for days after.

This is not a pleasant show to watch.  If you believe life is already too terrible and TV is your diversion, then this show is not for you.  But if you want to see fantastic cinematography, emotional storytelling, and knockout performances, then this is an experience you cannot miss.

The show is so beautifully shot.  I usually don't comment too much about the cinematography of a TV show, but Broadchurch uses that visual layer to express the themes and emotions of the show.  You can see the beauty of this small town.  And seeing it makes this murder and other evils feel like a fall from innocence.

And I cannot say enough about the performances.  I have been an enormous fan of Tennant since Doctor Who.  But this was something all together different.  All of the mirth that could be found in his Time Lord is gone, replaced with a heart guarded by cynicism.  Watch moments when that wall cracks is painful.  And Colman was fantastic surprise.  I'm mostly familiar with her comedic work.  But she makes Ellie feel so real.  When she does screw up, it doesn't feel like it is caused by stupidity.  Her screwups feel like a normal, regular person who is thrown into this horrible circumstances.  She blew me away.

One of the other real treats for me was seeing another Who alumn, Arthur Darvil as Paul the local Anglican priest.  I was very worried that the show would treat religion with the usually disdain I find in British pop culture.  But Paul was painted fairly.  He is not portrayed as a saint.  He is at times, like many of us, a bit of well-meaning screw up.  But he is not a naive, superstitious, and judgmental figure that we've come to expect.  There are many people in the town who rail against God and religion over what happened to Danny.  But Paul appears truly interested in bringing God's healing to his flock.  As a Catholic, I appreciated this often overlooked element to human society.

"Episode 1"

The pilot will grab you or it won't  We begin with an image of Danny standing on the edge of a cliff at night, blood dripping from his hand.

The first episode not only lays out the elements of mystery, but it roils up the agony of the Lattimer family as they go from worry, to fear, to dread, to devastation.  And even in all of that, you look at them with a jaundiced eye, trying to find the culprit.    The tone, the intensity, and the power of the show are all present from the beginning.

"Episode 2" Season 2

The second season of Broadchurch is nowhere near as good as the first.  And it is with this second episode that things begin to fall apart.  I cannot speak much without giving things away.  But the second season deals with the fallout of Danny's murder investigation and it deals with the case that caused Hardy to exile himself to Broadchurch.  Unfortunately neither story is nearly as compelling as anything in the first season.  A number of new characters are added.  But instead of adding to the richness of the show, it dilutes its strength.  I don't care if the prosecuting attorney is going blind!  What about Danny's killer?!?  In this episode particularly, it is clear that the writers were artificially prolonging the story, to great annoyance.  And the ending of this episode might be the most contrived and stupid moment of the series.

"Episode 8" - Season 1

The mystery of Danny's killer is solved at the end of the first season.  It is impossible for me to explain in sufficient detail why this episode is so good without getting into major spoilers.  But it all fits together and it is powerful.

Trust me.


Broadchurch is set to come back for Season 3.  While there were many, many problems with the second season, the first season was some of the best TV I've seen.  I couldn't get away from it, even when I wanted to.  It haunted me in a way few pieces of drama have.  And for that reason alone, it deserves a spot on this list.

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