Because the first season of Broadchurch wrapped itself up so perfectly, and because the American version of the show, Gracepoint, never got above mediocre in quality, we had no real expectations going into this season. We didn’t avail ourselves of the many ways in which it became available for viewing outside the U.K. before now and we didn’t pay attention to any casting decisions or plot particulars. This allowed for a particular form of delight for us last night, as seemingly half the British acting community got cast for this season and no one told us. It was a string of recognizable faces popping up to our delight, followed by a constant refrain of “Ooohh, I love him/her!”
Truth be told, we weren’t sure there was a reason to return to the story at all, although we were mostly interested in the revisit, simply because we enjoy the cast so much. Any chance for Olivia Colman to do her harried and bluntly self-deprecating schtick is a thing worth watching, as far as we’re concerned. What surprised us most about this season opener was just how easily the story picked up again and how effortlessly we fell right back into it. We were wrong, it seems. There is, in fact, more story to be told here.
As good as the cast can be, the main character of Broadchurch is Broadchurch itself, so in order to continue the story after Danny Latimer’s killer has been arrested, you have to examine what’s happened to that community and all the people in it in the wake of such a horrific event. Season one was Broadchurch reacting to a horrible murder. Season two – or at least the first episode of it – is about Broadchurch reacting to a horrible murderer. Joe Miller’s unexpected – and totally shitty – “not guilty” plea is the event that sets everything off. The Latimers are, on the surface at least, ready to move on. Hardy is – again, on the surface – trying to make things right in his life. Ellie is desperate to pull what remains of her family together and forget as much as she can. And once again, these emotional disruptions ripple outward in the community, drawing major institutions like the press and the church into the fray, reigniting rivalries and competing agendas up and down the coastline. Similar to what we said about Empire earlier today, Broadchurch is formulaic, but right now, it’s still on the good side of formulaic.
And that formula gets expanded upon slightly, in an almost inevitable way. In order for Hardy’s character to have any sort of growth – and indeed, for him to remain in this story at all – you need to examine the apparently doomed case that fuels all his demons and drove him to Broadchurch in the first place. It’s expected, to be sure, but we’ll take the show going in this direction over adding another town murder, Jessica Fletcher-style, on top of Danny Latimer’s. The parallels to Ellie’s life are far too convenient and this direction could fall apart very easily, but for now, it feels not only right, but necessary for the show to go down this road. We couldn’t be kept in the dark about Hardy’s past forever. And besides, we have no complaints about having to look at James D’Arcy in a t-shirt.
There’s certainly nothing revolutionary in the story of a child murder turning a small town upside down, but Broadchurch in its first season was adept at making that community a living, breathing, relatable thing. And considering how many “a murder turns a community upside down” stories are told, not to mention how badly most of those versions are, the fact that Broadchurch can do this is a huge reason why it’s appealing and why it stands out from other, similar stories. It all stands or falls on how well drawn the characters are and how adept the actors are at playing them. On that front, Broadchurch is so good that the plot almost becomes a secondary concern. If there are scenes of Olivia Colman playing off David Tennant, then we’re in. No questions asked, sign us up. That the show has added Marianne Jean-Baptiste going up against Charlotte Rampling in court over the Latimer case is only the cherry on top of the narrative sundae. No matter what else happens, you can rest assured the acting is going to be top-shelf all the way through.
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[Photo Credit: ITV/Kudos]
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