Third-episode verdict: Gracepoint (US: Fox; UK: ITV)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by ITV. Will air in 2014

Three episodes into Gracepoint, Fox’s remake of ITV’s acclaimed Broadchurch, and it’s becoming clear that the show works best when it’s not a murder-mystery. Now to a certain extent, you’d expect that. In common with The Killing, the first episode of the show focused on the reaction of a small community to the murder of a child, the grief of the family and how the murder affected everyone involved, right down to the police who knew the affected family. Beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, it was obviously several notches above the ordinary crime show, which treats such things as incidentals that can at most add an extra couple of scenes to an hour-long episode.

On top of that, fresh from Broadchurch came David Tennant to reprise his role as the investigative detective, a traumatised city cop who has to deal with small town thinking and small town people, not to mention the resumed glare of the media’s eye which affected a similar previous case of his and his own demons. True, Tennant seems both verbally and physically out of place next to the American cast – although much less so than the mysteriously English Sarah-Jane Potts, who runs this small American town’s hotel for no particular reason and no one seems to notice that she’s English either – but he’s as good as always, otherwise.

But the mistake the second episode then made was to assume that we’d be interested in finding out more about the personalities of the supporting characters and that a great big shoal of red herrings was what we really wanted, as we’re all busily trying to work out whodunnit and a few twists and turns always go down well. That didn’t work for The Killing (US) and it didn’t work for Gracepoint.

Fortunately the third episode returns to the concerns of the first episode – the grieving family and friends, and Tennant interactions with local detective Anna Gunn. Tennant’s character is a multi-layered thing, not a traditional maverick cop but someone who’s simply not good with people, thinks being good with people stops you solving crimes since you make allowances, thinks local policing is inferior to city policing and indeed hates small towns and everything about them completely. In return, Gunn hates Tennant and doesn’t accept his methods, and it’s in their arguments and conflicts that the show finds a unique perspective as a crime drama, with both Gunn and Tennant being shown to be both correct and wrong, depending on the situation. It’s their dialogue and mutual antagonism, rather than the case itself, that are truly interesting and different.

My worry is that the original eight-episode first series of Broadchurch is now a ten-episode story and that the show hasn’t got enough grief, depth and analysis to push everything out to that length and avoid numerous run-arounds and yet more red herrings. The temptation is clearly there, as the second episode shows, and there could well be more to come.

All the same, as it stands after the first three episodes, Gracepoint is still an excellent TV show. It’s not a happy little thing at all, full of misery and pain, people struggling with problems and secrets, with barely a smile or a joke in the first three hours, so if you’re hoping for something a little lighter, this really isn’t your show. But if it can maintain the quality and you’re prepared to deal with the misery, it’s a rewarding piece – surprisingly so, given it’s in on Fox. But then the same could be said about the original ITV show and look how well that turned out.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Will undoubtedly make it through to the end of the first season unscathed, but it’s not getting the ratings Fox was hoping for, so I’d be surprised if it makes it through to a second season. And given the reaction to the original’s ending, despite the changes, there’s always the possibility of a similar backlash with Gracepoint

  • bob

    “”And given the reaction to the original’s ending, despite the changes, there’s always the possibility of a similar backlash with Gracepoint”

    What do you mean? There was backlash with Broadchurch's ending?

  • Yes. Lots of people were disappointed with the Broadchurch's ending (and will The Killing's as well). But the Gracepoint producers have said they've changed the ending so that people won't know whodunnit, even if they've seen Broadchurch, so maybe the ending will be better.

    (Usual disclaimer that I haven't seen Broadchurch, so the ending might have been brilliant).

  • bob

    Huh. I thought it brilliant and I am definitely not sure Gracepoint could pull off an alternate ending since Broadchurch's worked so flawlessly in terms of the themes of the show (not just in terms of the logic).

    Maybe you just can't please everyone?

    I'm interested to hear the complaints.

  • A quick Google reveals some of the reactions if you browse through the comments here – a 50-50 split between brilliant and obvious.

    e.g. “After 8 weeks of expertly crafted, well-paced build up, I was disappointed about the weak story behind murder. It may as well have been a complete random killing by a stranger – it would have been just as senseless.”

    “Mechanistic, hurried ending, full of holes and missed opportunities.

    Having set-up and knocked down a series of suspects the plot having ground its way around all the cast it could afford eventually it papered over the holes and made the murderer reveal himself (again with holes).”

    I did do a quick straw poll of people I know who watched it as well and the reactions varied between “It was at least competent. Which I guess counts as 'upping his game' for Chibbers” through “It was quite good. Not Murder of Roger Ackroyd when you're a teenager good, but basically fine.” to “trite & obvious”.

    Given who it was (I've spoiled myself now. Sigh…) and given some people's comments on the first page above that “50% of England had guessed who it was”, I think obvious sounds about right and if you followed the rule of Checkov's Gun, then you could probably have guessed.

    But I imagine it did fit thematically.

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