Saturday, January 6, 2018
Broadchurch: One of the Best Things I Watched in 2017
Scott D. Parker
Some series arrive out of the blue and land your radar that you wonder how it is you never heard of it. Chances are good that the reason I never knew about Broadchurch was that I am not—as yet—a Doctor Who fan.
Someone correct me if I’m mistaken but it seems to me that Broadchurch must have been written by Chris Chibnall with star David Tennant in mind. He plays detective Alec Hardy, a grizzled veteran recently assigned as lead detective to the police station down in Broadchurch (a fictional town Dorset, England) largely to get away from a case that had gone badly. He immediately ruffles the feathers of detective Ellie Miller (the brilliant Olivia Colman) who had just returned from a vacation with the full expectation that she would land the job of lead detective. You can imagine her chagrin at not getting the post, but all of that is subverted when the body of a young boy is found on the beach, below a massive cliff.
What makes Broadchurch the series so utterly compelling is how the death of the boy affects the residents of Broadchurch the town. The first season (all seasons are eight episodes) zeroes in on the family of young Danny Latimer. The Latimers—father Mark Latimer (Andrew Buchan); mother Beth Latimer (played by future Doctor Who Jodie Whittaker); and sister Chloe—are understandably beside themselves with grief. They are also good friends with the Millers—Ellie’s son was friends with Danny; Ellie is best friends with Beth—and that relationship is stretched from time to time as the investigation drags on.
As in most great mysteries, we viewers see certain characters doing things that casts shades of guilt over them. The mystery is compelling, but the acting is superb. This counts as my first exposure to Tennant and if he brings this kind of gravitas to Doctor Who, I’m so there. I saw myself in Whittaker and Buchan, as the grieving parents, and wondered if I would do anything much differently. But the true breakout star (for me) of this series is Colman’s Ellie. Indeed, she won a BAFTA for Best Actress. Over the course of season one, she quickly grew to be my favorite character and she stayed that way all the way to the series finale. Her humanness at what she witnesses is compelling and draws you in more and more. Colman’s ability never to hide her true feelings is refreshing in a TV detective, and her strength, while tested, remains strong. I’ve not watched an episode of “The Crown” but as soon as I learned Colman would assume the lead role, I put that show on my list.
Word of advice: do not watch season one and read up on the series on the internet. You will spoil the reveal of the true culprit.
Season two of the series focuses on two plot threads: the trial of the person responsible for Danny’s death—and what it does to the town—and the old case Tennant’s Hardy failed to solve that eventually led to his assignment at Broadchurch. Where many second seasons and sequels tend to go over the top, with Broadchurch, you merely get additional layers peeled away. Colman continues to shine as my favorite character, but the actions and motivations of the Latimer parents take a prominent role. We get a bit of backstory with Tennant’s Hardy here, especially as he asks Ellie to review and re-investigate the previous case which has landed again in his lap.
Again, do not read up on this season, but stay to the very, very powerful ending that will have you asking if you could do it.
The third and last season jumps forward in time about three years. Hardy is back in Broadchurch and he and Ellie investigate the brutal rape of a woman at a 50th birthday party at a nearby mansion. Like the previous two seasons, the detectives investigate folks and we see them not only doing something that makes them look suspicious but also outright lying to the investigators. Season three uses this story to say a few things about modern culture, not all of it good. As you have come to expect, the acting is superb and Colman shines, as does Tennant.
This is an excellent series and is one of the best things I saw in 2017 (we finished a few days shy of 2018). All the episodes are on Netflix. I’m not a binger, but I started to be as this series progressed. Season one was a one-episode-per-night thing. Season two had a couple of nights where my wife and I watched two episodes. Not so with the third season. Most nights were two episodes each. I ended up finishing the series sooner than I would have liked, but it is so good I didn’t really care.
Broadchurch: Seasons 1-3: Highly Recommended
P. S. Happy Birthday, Sherlock!