August 7, 2013



BROADCHURCH:  Wednesday 10PM on BBCAmerica – Potential DVR Alert

BROADCHURCH suffers a bit, through no fault of its own, from murder fatigue.  Since The Killing, we’ve seen quite a few of these extended mysteries, tracing a single crime (usually against a child or other innocent) throughout a season, from The Bridge to Top of the Lake to The Fall (with a parallel universe of serialized serial killers on Hannibal and The Following).  In its first hour, Broadchurch hits quite a few of what have quickly become genre tropes, beginning with the seemingly normal and happy Latimer family enjoying their carefree pre-horror morning and, once the body of 11-year old Danny has been found on the Dorset beach, quickly introducing us to The Newly Arrived Detective With A Dark Secret (Alec Hardy, played by David Tennant as brilliant but antisocial) and His More Emotionally Grounded Partner (Ellie Miller, embodied by Olivia Colman).  We know that the process of the investigation will be tortuous, and along the way, all sorts of moral insects will scurry when exposed to the light.  The end–and, as life in a post-Killing world requires, we’re assured that there will be an end, a solution to the mystery in the 8th and final episode–will tell us who the killer is, but won’t be able to provide real closure to all the sins we’ve witnessed.

Of course, all detective stories are ultimately like all other detective stories, and the same is true of any genre.  (It’s why, when a truly original spin like Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl emerges, it becomes a phenomenon.)  It’s only fair to judge each entry on its own merits, and while Broadchurch‘s first hour may be unsurprising, it’s also extremely well done.  The scripts are by Chris Chibnall, whose previous work includes Doctor Who and its spin-off Torchwood (as well as the more procedural Law & Order: UK), and he does a fine job of quickly laying out the cops, family, reporters and townspeople.  (The episode is directed by James Strong.)  Tennant and Colman are strong actors (Colman was unforgettable in the little-seen Tyranosaur), and they bring emotional weight to their detectives.  The show doesn’t plunge into a miasma of grief and grayness like The Killing, and also unlike The Killing, it keeps its focus and doesn’t overextend by bringing in tangentially related storylines and hoping they’ll all fit together in the end.

It might have made sense for BBCAmerica to launch Broadchurch with a 2-hour premiere, which presumably would have given the show a chance to delve more deeply into its storyline and characters than the first hour alone, which has to carry a load of exposition.  As it is, apart from the fact that Ellie’s son Tom (Adam Wilson), who was a friend of Danny’s, has something to hide, there’s little plot development in the first hour, just a general indication of who in town is going to turn out to matter.

Broadchurch seems unlikely to become the blockbuster here that it was in England (a second season has already been ordered), but it’s sturdy enough that FOX has put an American version into development.  It’s certainly worth watching in the dead of summer.  An hour in, though, the question is whether it will just be a solid retelling of a familiar tale, or whether something more distinctive is lurking ahead.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."