Even though some TV critics hate Fox’s new crime drama Gracepoint, you just might love it.
And that mostly depends on one thing: Whether you’ve seen the British TV series it’s based on, Broadchurch.
That original series became a critical sensation after it aired on BBC America as a taut, involving story about the search for the murderer of an 11-year-old boy in a small town along the English Channel. While detectives search for the killer, they also puncture the town’s façade of civility and togetherness, exposing all the dirty secrets that small communities can hide.
It was an affecting, sharply-written drama that only got more compelling as the series unfolded over eight episodes, the epitome of British television’s habit of telling a great story and stopping when it’s done.
Except Fox then decided to do an American version with an almost entirely different cast and U.S. setting, leaving critics with one question:
“(BBC America’s) viewing audience for Broadchurch represents really, truly less than 1 percent of the American television viewing population,” says Gracepoint executive producer Carolyn Bernstein. In other words: this will seem like a new show to most of the people watching it on Fox.
Good thing. Because in my own admittedly unscientific analysis, folks who have seen Broadchurch will have greatly different reactions to Gracepoint than those who have not.
I watched the first two Gracepoint episodes with my teenage daughters, who had watched and loved Broadchurch with me over an addictive weekend last year when BBC America sent critics all eight episodes in a batch.
Sitting in the same room, we cracked jokes about how similar the first two episodes were to the original – including a mesmerizing “tracking shot” scene in which the father of the victim meets almost every major character from the show as he starts his day, unaware of what’s happened to his son, showing the audience the small-town façade about to be shattered by murder.
The thrill of learning a new story was gone, replaced by a weary, cynical analysis of just how much Fox was willing to clone an already amazing British show. But how would this play for someone who hadn’t seen Broadchurch?
I found a friend willing to sit through the same episodes and discovered Fox may have a point. Unburdened with knowledge of a previous version, my new viewing buddy enjoyed the show a lot more, which allowed me to enjoy it more.
Aside from Americanizing British colloquialisms and small details – cars on the right side of the street and cops who carry guns regularly – there’s a lot of commonality between the small-town vibe created for Broadchurch and the tiny California tourist trap in Gracepoint.
David Tennant is the only actor to appear in both versions of the show, his scruffy beard and antagonistic attitude fully intact, regardless of which side of the pond he’s working on.
It’s a tribute to Tennant’s skill with accents that you barely notice his carefully neutral American tones in Gracepoint – a U.S. accent that mostly stands out for its lack of affect, as if his character Emmett Carver was somehow birthed in a place with a perfectly generic patois.
(He’s not on completely new ground: Mark Strong played an American version of a character he created for British TV on AMC’s Low Winter Sun. Tennant also will play his Broadchurch character, Alec Hardy, in a second season of that show.)
If there is one casting change that played oddly for me, it was the decision to cast Breaking Bad alum Anna Gunn as Ellie Miller, the longtime Gracepoint P.D. detective forced to work with Tennant’s rude, driven Det. Carver after he gets the supervisory job she was promised.
In Broadchurch, Olivia Colman’s Ellie Miller is meant to seem like an average mom from the town who just happens to work as a police detective. Her perspective as a product of the community that must be upended to find the killer is crucial, and I had a tough time seeing the more glamorous Gunn as such an average character.
But that could be my own bias; I’ve often complained about U.S. TV’s high standards of attractiveness for its actors, particularly regarding female characters. Gunn does a great job as Miller, so it is a bit unfair to ding her for a dynamic that ranges far beyond Gracepoint‘s call sheet.
Nick Nolte is reliably crusty as Jack Reinhold, the operator of a local youth program and a character played with similar flair by Harry Potter alum David Bradley in the British version. Michael Pena adds a touch of diversity as the victim’s father Mark Solano, though his race isn’t an issue in the Gracepoint episodes I saw.
I have seen seven of the ten Gracepoint episodes Fox has planned, and while there are a few notable diversions from the Broadchurch script, they don’t much change the overall narrative for those of us who have seen the source material. But producers have suggested the killer in Gracepoint will be a different character, lending new possibilities to the show’s numerous suspects.
So if you really want to enjoy Gracepoint – especially for Tennant fans who will gobble up anything the former Doctor Who star appears in – consider watching it with a friend who doesn’t yet know the story.
Because the best way to experience this reimagined story is through fresh eyes.
Gracepoint debuts at 9 p.m. EST Thursday, Oct. 2 on Fox.