Broadchurch Series Premiere Review: A Bad Day at the Beach, a Compelling Start for the Series
TV is overrun by death. This isn't a new phenomenon, but as many have noted as of late, it sure seems like we're right in the middle of a particularly bloody period for the medium. While the truly miserable shows like The Following offer up a gross amount of murder seemingly for kicks, even the better, more-measured approaches like Hannibal or The Killing can feel... too much. Those latter two series get a lot of mileage out of the effects that violence can have on people, but it's not like we need another show that does that kind of thing. However, what was great about Broadchurch's first episode was that it didn't glorify—or even really focus on—the death of Danny Latimer. Instead it immediately dug into the way his death disrupted the supposedly idyllic beach community.
I've seen five of the eight episodes in Broadchurch's first season, and this first one was probably the weakest of the bunch. That's not an indictment of the series' quality; the opening episode was stirring and visually evocative throughout. However, one of the show's biggest strengths is the way its story expands to various corners of this smallish town, giving us perspectives from the police, the family, the media, and creepy townsfolk. Although most small-town murder mysteries claim to treat their settings as full-fledged characters, this one really does feel like a show where the town is a lead player; the Broadchurch title fits.
However, that means the pilot needed a lot of time to introduce the show's many characters, if even briefly, while still trying to key in on the gut-punch impact of Danny's death. That's not an easy thing to do, especially since the show features almost 20 regular or recurring characters; the opening sequence, with Mark Latimer moving through downtown Broadchurch, did an admirable job of handling those first-meets. Certainly, characters who were barely seen here will become more important in the upcoming weeks, but the second half of the premiere still felt a bit bogged-down in overly familiar tropes, namely media interference in the case and the way it created obvious conflict between D.I. Hardy and D.S. Miller. While that part of the story and the Olly Stevens character will slide into the story better as time goes on and Broadchurch actually begins to say some interesting things about media coverage of these kinds of murders, its placement in the premiere made it seem like the show is going to be much more about the media zoo than it actually is.
Nevertheless, the first half of the episode was pretty glorious, right? Broadchurch benefits so much from its location shooting, particularly that cliff and beach. We've been bombarded by shows that try to match their grimy and ugly subject matter with similarly depressing scenery, but this one smartly goes the other way, giving us beautiful shots of a warm, inviting place that immediately contradict the ugly things happening below the surface. All the scenes and shots on the beach worked wonders for Broadchurch's tone; slow-motion helped make the discovery of Danny's body seem almost like a surreal dream for his mother, Beth, and even for D.S. Miller. The contrast between the light and dark isn't new, but it kind of feels that way in the shadow of the grays and rainy days of a series like The Killing.
Really, that's a great way to describe Broadchurch in general, and especially its pilot. There wasn't anything in the first episode that shocked me, but it was a nice change of pace for that exact reason. Although Danny's death is the show's big, driving mystery, this first episode didn't exploit it with any gratuitous, violent imagery, and the mystery part of the story didn't suffocate the rest of the proceedings. Hardy and Miller bickered about the typical things—he took her job, she's too close to the community to truly work the case—but those moments were both few and far between and very well-performed by the awesome David Tennant and Olivia Colman. Beth and Mark Latimer's relationship has already started to crumble, but their tension wasn't overwrought or melodramatic. There wasn't a ton of focus on lingering, "Look how creepy this guy is!" shots, or an obnoxious cliffhanger.
Post-pilot, Broadchurch feels confident, but not showy. There are a lot of characters and elements in play, but the series knows where it's going. There's no reason to rely on Shocking Moments or graphic images. This was an introduction to a community that's about to be torn apart, and a darn good one at that.
– David Tennant's five o'clock shadow is something to behold. His performance is good, too.
– I spent a few minutes assuming that Arthur Darvill was just playing Doctor Who's Rory, trapped in some random timeline, waiting for Amy and the Doctor.
– In terms of the actual mystery at the center of the show, I still have no real idea who did it after watching five episodes. And I'll say that the show doesn't rely too much on big fake-outs throughout those episodes.
– If you've seen the show already, either on ITV or through "other" means, please don't spoilt it for the rest of us in the comments!
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