GRACEPOINT: “Episode One”

The wholly unnecessary remake of the British hit Broadchurch might still be compelling viewing, if you haven’t seen Broadchurch.

I swear. We will find the person responsible. You have my word.

–American David Tennant, unafraid of redundancy

First, some housekeeping: Chase Branch will be recapping this regularly; I’m just putting some thoughts out there for this episode while he is on vacation. Second, I’m an unabashed, nearly evangelistic fan of the original BBC series Broadchurch (here’s my review of that) — every time I speak its name, take a drink. While I don’t intend for this to be an endless series of comparisons, (and I don’t think Chase does, either), it’s extremely difficult to disassociate when this premiere was basically a shot-for-shot remake of the original. Creator Chris Chibnall changed hardly a word of dialogue when he ported it over for Fox…well, he had to remove some nice character beats for the sake of American network time constraints, but that’s about it.

We even have the wonderful David Tennant (Doctor Who, OBVIOUSLY) back in the main role! Why he would agree to reprise his part for American audiences is another mystery worthy of a ten-part miniseries, but here he is, sporting a flat American accent and a nastier attitude than his Scottish counterpart. Yet the supposedly sleepy titular town of Gracepoint, on California’s northern coast (though the series actually filmed in Canada), doesn’t have the right kind of gloom; the cast doesn’t quite mesh (yet); and the whole thing just feels entirely superfluous. The “karaoke” metaphor frequently used in Gracepoint‘s reviews is apt, but this is at least competently performed karaoke. It’s a handsome-looking show that even retained the original’s deliberate pacing, instead of catering to its ADHD audience across the pond.

Playing Tennant’s foil is Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad, OBVIOUSLY), as the lady detective whose promised promotion was stolen out from underneath her by Tennant. (Yeah, I’ll just keep calling him Tennant. His new name doesn’t really matter yet. (It’s “Emmett Carver.”)) Gunn has a few good moments in the premiere, bringing to the part of Ellie Miller a very different energy and attitude — not better, not worse, but different — than the indomitable Olivia Coleman. Ellie’s world gets rocked again, minutes later in fact, by the discovery of a young boy’s body on the beach. The boy turns out to be Danny Solano, the son of her best friend (Virginia Kull), whose own scene of discovery is heart-rending despite the show’s over-reliance on slow-motion. When the news breaks public, starting the chain of events that might rip the town to pieces, speculation about Tennant’s competence follows. He’s carrying baggage from some kind of something in the town of Rosemont, but reminds Gracepoint’s Chief of Police that he’s the best they could get.

For Tennant’s part, no longer quite so rail-thin or bone-tired (compelling attributes of his Alec Hardy), it’s almost like if Miles Davis agreed to record some tracks for a Pearl Jam album of Miles Davis covers. How do you think that’s going to go? The answer: not terribly, if you’ve never listened to Miles Davis, but…it’s certainly not the same. And the same can be said of Gracepoint, which, despite the negative vibe of this recap, I sincerely believe will be worth the time of those viewers who missed out on Broadchurch when it aired last year on BBC America. And Chibnall, but especially Fox, is banking on American viewers’ new fascination with slow-burn mysteries to provide the network with a sorely-needed hit. (With the exception of its Monday Gotham/Sleepy Hollow slate, everything else on Fox is cratering in the ratings. Even a rebounding New Girl is nearly dead in the water. This isn’t what former network exec Kevin Reilly had in mind when he tried to “do away with pilot season.”)

Right, so: if I forget everything about Broadchurch and try to evaluate Gracepoint on its own terms, how does it hold up? It’s still a good show! Again, the cinematography is lovely, and it’s got a number of terrific actors populating it — these two points intertwine early on, with a nifty extended tracking shot as Michael Pena’s Mark Solano interacts with several of his neighbors, and eagle-eyed viewers surely look for signs and symbols of guilt. There’s the overeager reporter; Mark’s shady employee; the shady old woman who lives near the beach (Oscar Nominee Jackie Weaver); the possibly shady priest; Nick Nolte as the literal voice of the rumbling ocean; and a few others who barely register in their brief screen time. But everyone has secrets and everyone is a suspect, as Fox’s unhelpful hashtags (and even more questionable online “game”) remind us. And if it takes 10 episodes to figure out who killed Danny, while possibly giving us a less effective ending because they feel compelled to change it for some reason, so be it. Right?

I know, I’m not being fair. I’m mostly just annoyed — annoyed that this exists, because the original is not even hard to find, and is sure to be superior in every way. But I am first and foremost a fan of good storytelling, and Gracepoint has the opportunity to sucker-punch a much larger American audience than Broadchurch ever dreamed, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. If you never saw the original, you could very well love this. And I’ll love talking about it with you. I really will. I’m certainly curious to see what the new ending is — maybe it’s an elaborate fake-out and they won’t change the killer’s identity at all, but the notion that the shows’ paths will start to diverge around the series’ halfway point is enough to keep things interesting.

So don’t get me entirely wrong: if this is new to you, watch it. If it’s not, I don’t know what you’ll get out of it, unless you’re just as big a David Tennant fan as I am. Let’s see how this goes.

Actual Grade: B

Adaptation Grade: Theme Park Jukebox Musical

2 thoughts on “GRACEPOINT: “Episode One””

  1. Color me completely annoyed. This reminds me so much of when they brought “Coupling” over: just unnecessary. “Broadchurch” was brilliant….why not just run it on Fox? The pacing is wrong, the casting meh, and the indomitable Tennant’s acting choices confusing. Unless his character reveal is much darker this time, I don’t understand his direct and blank attitude. I’ll stick with it because of my worship of the King B…but mainly to cluck in disapproval.

    1. It’s just weird, isn’t it? I really need to talk to some people who didn’t see the original. Maybe it plays. I’ll never know. I’m definitely watching the whole thing out of curiosity.

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