By: Carlos Uribe
Broadchurch is a show about a small town that gets rocked by the murder of a young boy.
The way that death affects a community is a fascinating and compelling subject. As we go through our life, we form connections with people and influence their life in some way. It doesn't have to be a big influence but it's all very meaningful. This impact can be diluted in a big city where there are millions of people but it can really be felt in a small town. Everybody knows each other and the importance of the connection can be magnified. When somebody passes in a small town, it can affect the entire population. It becomes more tragic when a person is murdered. It can tear the bonds of the community to it's brinks because it means one of the members is a killer. Make the person who died a small boy and suddenly everything becomes more tragic, the killer more devious, and the impact carries more power. Broadchurch was a series conceived because the creator, Chris Chibnall, wanted to explore how a death might impact a community he grew up in. He's not the first person to be interested in this. The popular cult series, Twin Peaks, followed the investigation of the murder of a girl in a small town. The town of Twin Peaks was based on the town David Lynch, the creator, was raised in. The Killing is a Danish series that likewise follows a twenty-four hour investigation into a murder. It's set in a city but it still explores the personal impact the victim's death can have on the immediate community. The American adaption is similar even if it breaks away from the twenty-four hour format. It makes sense that the British would make a series that follows in that same vein. Broadchurch isn't completely original although it does mix things up by changing the gender of the victim. It is a compelling drama that manages to explore the multiple layers of a boy's murder: the investigation and the impact it has on the community. There is an answer at the end of the series (there will be a second season that presumably deals with a second murder) which will hopefully satisfy the fans who watch. It is good enough that it justifies a current attempt to bring this series into our country. Of course, whether that adaption can live up to the original will be up in the air until it actually airs. It is encouraging that it will have the same creator.
The plot of Broadchurch is a compelling and dark one. It's dark in the subject matter and how the death of the boy basically dominates the show. After everyone knows he's dead, it's impossible for this not to happen. This is not a very happy show which is accentuated by the constant use of slow-motion, sad classical music, and general execution of many scenes. It perhaps resorts to the slow-motion effect a little too often, as if the producers are worried that's the only way people will get that these people are grieving or under pressure, but it's still effective most of the time. The actual narrative is very smart as it's able to actually make almost everybody a potential suspect. The ending montage is ultimately what hooked me into coming back for future episodes. It basically was a reveal that the people whose lives were connected to him were the suspects. It's a powerful idea because it makes you wonder who to trust and promises to reveal all of their secrets. The writing is sharp in the sense that the writers know what their doing. There is no question they know who the killer is and they know how to get us to that information without seeming too contrived. Now, granted, this is just the first couple episodes but the first impression is that this is a tightly-written show where every clue will have it's own day. Where everything could make sense in the real world. The investigation not only promises to be smart but so does everything around it. The emotions these people feel real while the use of media has been pretty interesting. Broadchurch isn't just exploring the investigation and the impact of death but also how the media is playing into both. This is especially relevant for a British show after News of the World hacked phones in order to get scoops. Broadchurch is a show that has a compelling, tight narrative that is relevant in it's own country.
Broadchurch is an ensemble drama as it has multiple parties. The main police officer is Alec Hardy. He's an experienced detective who is forced to go to Broadchurch after he botched a previous case. He's seeking redemption in what is basically his last hope. This is a common way to set up a protagonist so that they can be a vehicle to introduce the audience to the town. He's not the most original character but his hard-boiled cynicism is a great match for his optimistic partner. Ellie Miller is a bit angry that he got the promotion she was seeking but she does contribute to the case a sense of knowing who these people are. This might make it difficult for her to be objective but she can tell when people are acting strangely or help fill in the history of the characters. The immediately strained relationship between Alex and Hardy is a strong one that can help anchor the show through multiple seasons. Their boss is Elaine Jenkinson but she doesn't make much of an impression. This part of Broadchurch is strong and it wouldn't be surprising if it's the one constant as the show goes from one murder case to another. The main family affected by the murder is the Latimer one. The mother, Beth, faces the normal reception you would expect from a mother beset with grief when she finds out her son is dead. Her story gets a whole other layer because she is pregnant. She just lost a child while carrying another? The emotions she must be going through must be pretty complicated. Mark, her husband, is largely angry as he's struggling to accept his son's death. The sister, Chloe, is a little more composed. She's still angry and sad at her brother's loss but she does have other sub-plots such as dealing drugs and having a secret boyfriend. The Latimer family is compelling because of their loss but I doubt they would be interesting without it. There's nothing wrong with this at this point but it is an inherent weakness that is hard to shake off.
The other main family of the show is the Miller family. Ellie is married to Joe, who is trying to be the best dad he can be. Her son is Tom, the best friend. His reaction to finding out his best friend was killed? Shock but he also proceeds to delete his e-mails and text messages from him. This suddenly becomes very interesting. The show has a journalist component. The main character seems to be Olly, Ellie's nephew, who wants to be more than just a reporter for a small town where nothing usually happens. This murder is a chance for him to get close to a reporter from the Herald, Karen. Karen is sick of press releases so she goes to Broadchurch for some real investigating. The boss is Maggie, who realizes the importance of having a strong relationship between the police and the media. When the media breaks down that relationship is when investigations can be hurt. The media characters are strong enough even if they deserve some more development considering how important they are to the narrative. The rest of the characters are people from the town and their all strong enough to be memorable in their own way. I'll admit that Broadchurch could use some character development when it comes to most of the families but that's largely because the death of the boy dominates most of the show. It's hard to develop characters when most of the characters are dealing with the impact that his death has on them.
That is ultimately something that is a weakness to Twin Peaks, the Killing, and Broadchurch. They all begin with the murder of a boy that shakes up the status quo but none of them have dedicated any time to establishing it first. We get a hint of their lives before it's changed forever by the murder. We might get flashbacks to help develop who the victim was but it's a bit difficult to connect when that's all you get about him. A pilot is supposed to establish what the series is about but surely there must be a way to have this kind of show where you get to meet everyone (including the victim) before the murder happens. No, I don't count the opening shots as really getting to know them. Those are mere hints to their lives and rarely can we glean anything significant about who they are. Broadchurch is a smart show with a compelling premise and strong enough characters but it could have been a lot better if we had a bit more time with the status quo.