Broadchurch Series Premiere Review: A Bad Day at the Beach, a Compelling Start for the Series

Broadchurch S01E01: "Episode 1"


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. 



NOTES

– 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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Dec 30, 2013
That is a bit more than a five o'clock shadow, my friend. I'd go so far as to call it an actual *gasp* beard. A very different and more rugged look than the Doctor would go for, but it works for Alec Hardy's character. Kudos, David, for matching the facial hair to the character. :)
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Aug 12, 2013
I enjoyed the first episode. It might have moved a touch too slow but I will almost always forgive a pilot episode for that. The characters were believable but not over the top and like a lot of people have commented on, the scenery makes the show. The bright, and fairly cheery scenery contrasts with the somewhat depressing subject matter.

I am interested to see what the kid was up to.
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Aug 12, 2013
I like that the show didn't really try to shock us with gore. We really didn't see that much of the body. I must give credit to the guy being the dad, because when he was viewing the body I felt it. I don't know the characters yet, but any family going through that.... The acting seems really good and not over the top. I like how beautiful the setting is. This show feels like it's setting out for a slow burn, building things up. We're getting a feel for the place and the people. I do want to find out what's going on with some of the characters even though I barely know anyone's name yet. That's a good sign.
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Aug 09, 2013
It might seem like a copy of the Killing, but its not. I've seen the whole series too, and its very compelling. It examines what happens to the whole town along with the investigation. The finale blew me away. Keep watching, you won't regret it. :)
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Aug 09, 2013
It's an all out copy of The Killing from a production stand point.
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Aug 09, 2013
I have watched the whole series already.....keep watching, it's amazing. It will keep you guessing until the end!!
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Aug 08, 2013
I liked the pilot, I'll stick around for the rest. Crime shows aren't really my cup of tea, but it's Wednesday and there's nothing else on and this seems good so far.
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Aug 08, 2013
i have seen it, being in the UK and it is fantastic!! Keep watching
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Aug 08, 2013
Have watched it, and called it! The Brits do crime best.
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Aug 08, 2013
Loved this little show and loved the setting, which as Cory says, is quite a change from the dank, dirty, smelly streets some shows take a delight in showing us... :-S

I think that is very British if you have watched some of their series, especially Midsomer Murders or Inspector Lynley Misteries, LOL.

If you only know Tennant from Doctor Who, I recommend you try to watch: Casanova, Blackpool (a bit weird but funny), and the really silly but entertaining Fright Night...
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Aug 08, 2013
I don't get depressed by "The killing" atmosphere, it just flows naturally to me. Because the show is great. I am the kind of escaping reality through silly shows like True Blood rather than hyperrealistic ones. Still, I don't feel offended by any parts of "The killing". It touches reality the right way for me. It is becoming annoying, because since it was cancelled, and even now that the show has recovered a lot of the critics blessings, we fans have to be hidding our heads in a hole instead of saying out loud what we are thinking, because otherwise it looks like we are gingers wearing one of those nordic style sweaters or something. And even when you come to read a different show's review, you still have to be hit by the lightning of how sad my favourite tv show is. Well, I am not going to give up, so just keep giving me chances to state it and it will go on from my side. The killing is not a sad show. It is intensively emotional at times, but I never feel sad when is over. However, it does bring good stuff for me to think about. Keep going, I'll be here to repeat myself too.

And talking about sadness and grief, I liked a lot about Broadchurch, but in this first episode I did not get involved in the sadness of the situation. Sadly. After the scene of the mother running street down through the car line, which was more emotional (in the way of The killing, I might say) until the point where she discover the body with the trainers that she recognizes, everything is fine. Beautiful, lots of characters presented. But after that, I didn't really get what happened to the family feelings. Felt kind of fake. It was like weeks had past already and they were cold and tired. But it just happened that very day, just minutes, hours before. For me, something big was missing. My take is that they wanted to make everyone look suspicious and it ended up looking like this. Don't know. Also, the other boy in the story, probably not a great child actor.

Still, seeing the missing items and all, I knew from this very episode that I was going to like watching the whole of Broadchurch. I hope most of you got the same impression about that.
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Aug 08, 2013
I have seen the show. I would highly recommend.
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Aug 08, 2013
The location and the cast of Broadchurch are its strong points.
The coast, the beach... It's a real pleasure to watch those magnificient landscapes... I also like the involvement of the journalists into the inquiry. As for Danny Latimer's parents, played by Andrew Buchan and Jodie Wittaker, they broke my heart.
I hope this show gives its actors some visibility : Andrew Buchan, Olivia Coleman, David Tennant (who is mostly known for Doctor Who) ... They've all played in great british shows or miniseries : Garrow's Law, Exile, Blackpool ...
I'm glad to talk about Broadchurch here Cory ; thanks for the review !
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Aug 08, 2013
This was a good start to what virtually everyone says is a great show. I'm glad to know that it only gets better as it progresses. I was hesitant to get sucked into yet another show -- good, bad or otherwise -- but I'm in now. And I have no fears that it will be anywhere near as silly as Luther was. (Don't misunderstand me with that preceding sentence. Idris Elba was a powerful, almost mesmerizing presence in Luther, but the show's plots and storytelling always bordered on downright absurdity.)
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Aug 08, 2013
I really enjoyed this first episode. I totally agree, Cory, about the juxtaposition of the idyllic community and the violence that turns it on its head, as opposed to trying to get too dark. This show seemed very much like Top of the Lake in that sense, which is pretty high praise.

Also, David Tennant was fantastic. For anyone who only knows him as The Doctor, he showed great range at slipping out of that character and into someone much more flawed and tortured.

I purposely avoided watching this show until now, so I haven't seen any farther ahead, I have no clue what's coming. (Somehow I also managed to do this with Luther season 3...don't ask me how). But I'm really excited to see where this is all going, and a lot of the characters have my interests piqued. Maybe it's just fallout from the Red Wedding, but I have my eye on Walder Frey, maybe not as the killer, but he knows something...

Excited for episode 2.
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Aug 08, 2013
Keeping the killer reveal a mystery right up till the end is one of the things this show does so perfectly. Its not all fake outs and red hearings like The Killing and other shows. The Media stuff is just right imo there enough to annoy you but not overly intrusive.
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Aug 08, 2013
I have to say that even at the end of Episode 7, I didn't know who it was. Yet when the reveal happened, I didn't feel cheated or as if the killer had been artificially hidden. The resolution and denouement were very smoothly handled.
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Aug 08, 2013
Nobody knows until the end because there are no clues about it. Just like in the old Jessica Fletcher episodes. Anyone could be. You go one by one eliminating suspects but you don't really fully eliminate them. And then when you find an answer that seems to make sense with the whole story that you have been told and that everybody is happy with, then it's somebody else for entirely unknown (and even crazy) reasons. Good part of it all: in this kind of shows, it doesn't matter that much who is the killer at the end. You enjoy the journey as it comes, suspecting everybody and following the characters emotions.
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Aug 08, 2013
I did know who it was by the end of episode 7 but not any sooner. Interestingly, my sister did too but for a completely different reason. Considering how predictable writing for crime shows usually is, that was one of the things that I loved most about this show (along with the cast and setting).
I think not telling the actors who was the murderer until the last possible moment was a great idea, so they couldn't leave any subconcious clues by acting more 'innocent' or 'guilty'.
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Aug 08, 2013
I knew when Hardy knew, but I didn't see the motive coming...
I'm not sure about telling the actors or not. If they had, and the killer would've subconsciously acted a bit guilty, would that not have fit?
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Aug 09, 2013
I prefered all of them being a bit shady and having differently sized skeletons in their closets. I really enjoyed not knowing immediately.
When I watched Whitechapel, the first time the guy later revealed to be the murderer appeared on screen, I knew it was him. Well done series, but the 'yeah, I knew it' left a shallow taste. That was not the case at all with Broadchurch.
I got the motive at the same time I was sure I knew who it was and for the same reason. There might have been an 'oh sh!t' yelled at my TV.
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Aug 08, 2013
I was a great show. Good review Cory, I am glad that you are reviewing it. Can't wait to see your take on it.

Also the Following presumably uses murder as a punishment for stupidity. There is a lot of stupidity, so lots of murder.
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Aug 08, 2013
If thats the case why isnt the entire FBI dead? Did then entire burrow commit suicide after i quit watching?
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Aug 08, 2013
Well at least half of the team you saw initially are in fact dead.
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