Sunday, October 06, 2013

Broadchurch will break you

So, I kind of don't know where to begin with this. Broadchurch, y'all. Easily the best eight hours of television I've seen in a while.

For those of you not on top of your BBC America summer re-airing game, Broadchurch is a self-contained series about the murder of a young boy in the small seaside town of Broadchurch, England. I was initially a little hesitant because, although it stars David Tennant's native Scottish accent* as a world-weary police investigator, it also features the death of an 11-year-old kid. As the stepmom of an 11-year-old kid, I was ... wary.

But dear Lord am I glad I tuned in. (WARNING: ALL OF THE SPOILERS AHEAD!)

First things first: The acting in Broadchurch is astounding. David Tennant -- known and loved by everyone as the Tenth Doctor -- here just vanishes into his role as a detective fresh off a failure of a child-murder case, who's so mentally destroyed by that last case that he's become dangerously physically ill. He's standoffish, brusque, rude, and dismissive (and not in the lovable Doctor way); but through all of it he communicates how deeply he cares not only about finding the truth, but also about providing what healing he can to the family members who have to struggle through the aftermath. His performance is breathtaking. I didn't for a minute see Doctor Who, or even really (after the first few minutes) David Tennant; he's entirely Alec Hardy, and Broadchurch is worth the viewing for his performance alone. But David Tennant isn't the only reason to watch. His partner Ellie Miller is played by Olivia Colman, who I'd never heard of before but who was also marvelous. So much of the emotional resonance of the final episode (and by extension the impact of the series as a whole) rests on her reaction to the reveal of the killer, and she nailed it. From disbelief and shock to disgust and rage and absolute heartbreak, we saw it all break across her face. And all the secondary players are similarly wonderful -- in particular Andrew Buchan, who plays Danny's father with a painfully believable mix of feeling trapped in his small-town life and destroyed by Danny's death. He's overcome by, alternately, rage and despair, and I totally bought both, even though his performance is for the most part quiet and contained.

Broadchurch has been compared to The Killing -- in essence it's the same set-up, with an entire season focused on the murder of a single child and the efforts to solve the crime. But where The Killing devolved into grief porn and a red-herring jamboree, Broadchurch manages to investigate each of the suspects and discard them, one by one, without feeling manipulative as each new suspect is thrust forward. There's a kind of humanity in the investigations, even as the town, in its desperation to blame someone for Danny's death, tears apart one suspect (played by David Bradley, in whom you will see nary a hint of Filch or Frey and who will make you weep). The town's reaction is believable, if not particularly forgivable, and as each suspect is examined, you believe that he could have done it.

In the end, the killer (SPOILER, SERIOUSLY) is Joe, Ellie's husband and the father of Danny's best friend. It isn't a case of garden-variety child molestation, not quite; Joe claims to have been in love with the 11-year-old Danny and killed him in a panic that Danny was going to stop spending time with him and tell someone where he had been sneaking off to. Joe hadn't been a suspect, more a quiet presence in the background managing their lives while his wife investigated the crime he committed. In the end, the horror of his act overcame him, he turned himself in, and Ellie's world fell apart.

The TV critics I read all warned me that Broadchurch would shatter me. And they were not wrong.

*Fox, in its infinite wisdom, is remaking Broadchurch and setting it in small-town USA. Playing Alec Hardy will be ... David Tennant with an American accent. The Beebs has also commissioned Season Two of Broadchurch for the UK, although it's not yet settled whether Tennant, Colman, or both will be back for round two. Regardless, I'll be watching.

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