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'Broadchurch' Continues to be Compelling Television
April 14, 2015  | By Ed Martin  | 2 comments

The usual “big” shows – AMC’s Mad Men, CBS’s The Good Wife, Netflix’s House of Cards, FX’s Justified, to name a deserving few -- have lately been getting most of the attention, as usual, from critics who pride themselves on championing television’s top dramas. But I’d like to throw some renewed support here to one that seems to have slipped under the radar – BBC America’s Broadchurch, now in its second season.

Admittedly, I didn’t see the need for a continuation of this troubling tale about the loss and despair that all but overtake a small oceanside town after the murder of little Danny Latimer. The story told in the eight episodes that comprised the first season felt very formal and complete, coming to a profoundly depressing but perfectly fitting end. All of the characters involved, from the family of the little boy to the family of the killer, to the detectives charged with solving the case, and all of the townspeople in between, were left to put back together the shattered pieces of their lives. It was exactly the right outcome, accurately reflecting the devastating pain people find themselves in after so wrenching a loss and so terrible an act.

In other words, in Season 1 Broadchurch felt achingly real in its presentation of death (in this case, murder) as a malevolent berserker capable of destroying everything in its path, leaving behind lives forever compromised. You would never know it from the way characters on most television series bounce back from such things – especially on crime dramas with their murder of the week structures -- but the impact of loss can be relentless, and grief often lingers for longer than most people realize, sometimes refusing ever to go away.

Broadchurch got that right, right from the start, which was why the thought of a second season was at first so off-putting. How believable would it be for the residents of a locale as small as the title town (more a village, really) to be seen somehow putting so devastating an incident behind them and gingerly carrying on? Could viewers be expected to believe that anything else happening to them could somehow eclipse what they had already been through?

Of course not, and that’s why Season 2 is also spot on. Rather than shove aside what appeared to be a complete story from Season 1, the creators of this fine series chose to re-activate the same story with an exasperating development that plunged everyone involved back into their collective, all-encompassing nightmare.

The results so far have been as engrossing as anything else on television. (I was sent all eight episodes in advance and binged right through them, something I rarely do with any series, including the best that Netflix and Amazon have to offer.) Much of the credit goes to the primary and supporting cast members who returned to reprise their roles and continue their characters’ personal dramas. David Tennant (still the best Doctor Who of them all) as weary and ailing Detective Inspector Alec Hardy and Olivia Colman as Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller, who endured a very specific horror of her own in Season 1, are once again at the center of everything, but they are sharing the spotlight with two sensational additions to the cast, Charlotte Rampling and Marianne Jean-Baptiste (above) as dueling barristers Jocelyn Knight and Sharon Bishop, respectively. Watching them play against each other during their scenes at trial is, in a word, thrilling. (Colman, Rampling and Jean-Baptiste, it goes without saying, ought to be considered for every award available to this show.)

Broadchurch has also layered in a second story about the murder case that brought Detective Hardy to town before the beginning of Season 1. It involves the disappearance of a teenager and the murder of her 12-year-old cousin. It isn’t as engrossing as the Danny Latimer case, perhaps because very little could eclipse the impact Danny’s death had on so many people. But it does bring fresh excitement to the franchise and a deeper understanding of Hardy’s troubled past.

It’s easy to tell stories about all kinds of murders and explore their immediate aftermaths, especially the pursuit of justice that follows. It’s quite another to examine the long-term impact such killings have on the loved ones and acquaintances of the victims, not to mention the detectives assigned to investigate. That’s a huge challenge, one very difficult to get right and also make interesting and entertaining.

The Good Wife continues to do an outstanding job of this, still exploring the aftermath of the killing of Will Gardner last season, especially the impact that it has had on his friend and lover, Alicia Florrick. Now Broadchurch is doing something equally impressive, boldly taking on one of dramatic television’s most intimidating challenges and getting it exactly right.

This column was originally published in the Planet Ed blog at MediaBizBloggers

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Thanks to your review of Broadchurch I just powered through 3 episodes in one sitting, something I rarely do. And I still had to restrain myself from watching the next episode.
I had watched the first two episodes before now but I stopped watching because I thought the show was too depressing. Your review convinced me to give it another try and I'm very glad I did, thank you. Yes, it's sad but there's much to the story that the darkness almost pales as the characters grow richer, and likable, and the mysteries twist and turn.
I've watched all the other shows in this review and they're my favorites, except for House of Cards which I've only seen one episode of. Of course I plan to rectify that soon.
Apr 29, 2015   |  Reply
Spot-on review! Have enjoyed both seasons. All actors excellent, as stated. Enjoyed seeing Charlotte Rampling again.
Apr 16, 2015   |  Reply
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