Television

'Gracepoint', a Remake of 'Broadchurch', Is Both the Same and Different

A precarious balance between precision and messiness structures Gracepoint in its storytelling and in its position as a US network series.


Gracepoint

Airtime: Thursdays, 9pm ET
Cast: David Tennant, Anna Gunn, Michael Peña, Virginia Kull, Nick Nolte, Jacki Weaver, Madalyn Horcher
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: Fox
Creator: Chris Chibnall
Air date: 2014-10-02
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Viewers of Broadchurch may think they have little reason to watch Gracepoint, the American remake. Premiering 2 October and running ten episodes, Fox's series looks much like the British version until the fourth episode, when it begins to branch off into its own direction. Just so, Gracepoint's makers insist their series will differ from the original.

Such protestations probably don't matter for Fox’s target audience, most of whom haven't seen Broadchurch or even heard of it. That said, all viewers will appreciate that Gracepoint is different from other US television murder mysteries, especially those airing on networks. Its long-form story, limited-episodes format is more like the series on FX and HBO. In this, Fox is making a bold move.

The series begins with the discovery of the body of 12-year-old Danny Solano (Nikolas Filipovic), on the beach in the titular town at the base of a cliff. While police initially determine the boy has committed suicide, the medical examiner quickly dismisses that idea. Danny was killed elsewhere and his body was placed on the beach.

Gracepoint is a small town, which means local detective Ellie Miller (Anna Gunn) will be investigating her friends and neighbors. Ellie isn’t in great shape to do this, considering that Danny was her son’s best friend. She’s also just returned from a two-week vacation to discover the head detective job she’d been promised was given away to Emmett Carver (David Tennant), a hotshot from out of town.

The Solano family is devastated by the news, and Gracepoint's early episodes spend some time exploring their reactions. If the show doesn't appear to wallow in their grief (as did, say, the first season of The Killing, which Gracepoint resembles superficially), its murder investigation does reveal secrets hidden by the family and other townspeople in Danny’s orbit. The child had $500 hidden under his bed, his 15-year-old sister Chloe (Madalyn Horcher) has a small amount of cocaine in her room, and their father Mark (Michael Peña) doesn’t have a solid alibi for the night of Danny’s death.

The tensions arising from such riddles form a frame for the often-contentious relationship between Ellie and Carver. She believes her knowledge of the locals and her reluctance to suspect any of them right off the bat gives her an advantage when sussing out is acting strangely. Carver concedes that much, but also thinks Ellie's emotional investments prevent her from following the facts and leads as doggedly as she should.

This makes them a somewhat familiar pairing: Carver has a gruff personality and performs it publicly, wanting others to see him as cold and calculating. The more nurturing-seeming Ellie sees through this act, and regularly calls him out for it.

This relationship is shaped, of course, by the actors, each known to US viewers for other roles. Ellie is unlike Gunn’s role as Skyler White on Breaking Bad, and Tennant is best known in the US for his stint as Dr. Who. That he also played a Detective Hardy on Broadchurch, not exactly the same person as Carver, but in a similar position. For viewers of both shows, this makes for something a game, as they might spot differences and anticipate similarities. While his American accent isn’t especially precise, it serves as an intermittent reminder of this doubling.

A precarious balance between precision and messiness structures Gracepoint, in its storytelling and in its position as a US network series. The networks have been tentatively wading into cable-style configurations for the past couple of years: we’ve seen shorter seasons that run straight through with no reruns, and a couple of limited-run shows during the summer. We might hope that Fox's decision to run a limited series during the conventional season will lead to more and other changes in US television's ancient rules of programming.

That ambition seems supported by Gracepoint's specifics. A compelling mystery, it maintains a measured pace, inviting viewers' patience. Carver and Ellie’s investigation is thorough, offering viewers plenty of opportunities to participate, to spot clues, consider options, and notice details that don’t quite add up. It poses challenges for viewers, and for that, we can commend it.

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