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TV Review: Broadchurch (Season 1)

The first season of Broadchurch is available to watch on Netflix, which is where I binge-watched it very recently and for the first time. The show originally aired on the British channel ITV and it follows the police investigation into the fictional murder of eleven-year old Danny Latimer in a small, coastal village. As popular as the mysterious-murder-in-a-small-community storyline is, Broadchurch is exceptional in many ways. The identity of the killer is kept pretty opaque throughout the eight episodes, which allows for a riveting season of constant guessing and a satisfyingly shocking reveal at the end. The characters are fully fleshed out personalities with detailed back-stories and the actors are brilliant, with Olivia Colman and Doctor Who’s David Tennant starring as the two detectives working the case. The focus of the show, aside from the police investigation, which admittedly wasn’t that efficient (although the fact that this is the first murder in the small town of Broadchurch could be the reason for the less than stellar police work), is really on the effects that the murder and investigation have on the family and close-knit community. Relationships are tested and secrets are revealed in during the long investigation. The grief of the boy’s parents, which manifests in an especially real and moving way for the mother, the portrayal of the flawed police officers and journalists pursuing the case, and the mature treatment of the murder of a child are the real reason why Broadchurch has been elevated above other shows with a similar premise.

The violent death at the core of the story is treated in an uncommonly respectful way, as the creators of Broadchurch seem very much aware that such a crime can easily be sensationalized, simplified, or glossed over in the pursuit of the killer. The murder is regarded as the abominable evil that it truly is due to focus that the show gives to the effects that Danny’s mysterious death and not just to solving the case. In fact, the aspect of Broadchurch that stuck with me the most was thedevastating portrayal of a grieving mother. Beth Latimer’s life completely falls apart after finding out about her dead son and cheating husband and she has struggles to find her way, with a little support and understanding from the town’s vicar. She is the emotional core and touchstone of humanity in the chaos of police work and sensationalist journalism throughout the show. However, the detectives and journalists are not merely seen as good or bad, though, but shaded in grey. DI Alec Hardy deals with déjà vu as he works to catch the killer and bring justice to the victim while retaining his own humanity and struggling with health problems. One of his personal ghosts is made real in the form of journalist Karen White, who follows the case doggedly because she believes that Hardy will fail the victim’s family as he has done so in the past. But she is not simply there to watch him be unsuccessful. She wants to make sure that the story will get proper coverage and that the family will not be exploited. New-to-town Hardy and White have their local counterparts in DI Ellie Miller and Olly Stevens, who are critical members of the tiny community of Broadchurch. These two must try to separate their personal lives from their jobs during the investigation while remaining true to themselves and to the people they care about.

There is, of course, a strong cast of characters, who blur the lines between innocent and suspect. David Bradley, best known as the dislikeable Argus Filch from the Harry Potter movie series and/or as the despicable Walder Frey in Game of Thrones, is convincing here as a gentle and harmless old man. Arthur Darvill (Amy and Rory forever!) plays an earnest young vicar (although he is perhaps too good-looking for the part). Pauline Quirke is a quietly terrifying figure with a cultivated, nightmare-inducing dead-eyed stare whom you know has seen some dark things. Jodie Whittaker is heart-breaking as the young mother whose pain and grief will make you weep. The two leads, of course, are David Tennant and Olivia Colman who are two detectives with opposing personalities who work tirelessly to catch the murderer even as the case takes on a personal significance for both of them.

From a writing standpoint, I noticed and liked a certain narrative mirroring given to some of the characters of Broadchurch. Two different people sorrowfully admit to missing the hugs of their dead sons. The cyclical theme of moving to a new town to start life afresh is also brought up for many of the characters. The most impactful of all is when one character questions another on how they could have missed the crimes going on under their own roof, only to be confronted with the same question later by another character. Generally, the storytelling is kept tightly contained by the short season of the show. Viewers get to experience a really intriguing mystery and kept guessing throughout the whole season, even with the evocatively slow pace and with many red herrings.

As a bonus, I will share my list of shows to watch here for those who enjoyed Broadchurch (although I haven’t watched any of these ones yet): The Killing, Top of the Lake, and Twin Peaks. There is also the obligatory mention of Gracepoint, the American remake of Broadchurch starring Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn and, for some strange and unfathomable reason, David Tennant (again) as the two detectives investigating the murder. Season two of Broadchurch is currently airing in the UK as well, and although it seems to be getting unfavourable reviews, it covers the court case after the killer is caught.

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