'Gracepoint' Review, 'Gone Girl'-Style: Two Perspectives on the 'Broadchurch' Remake
[Editor’s Note: The following are diary excerpts from Indiewire’s TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller and TV Critic Ben Travers. Both have watched the first two episodes of “Gracepoint,” but only Miller has seen the original BBC drama, “Broadchurch,” which inspired the new Fox “mystery event.” Neither were able to be reached for further comment, as they have apparently staked out early positions in line to see “Gone Girl” at a local theater in Los Angeles. The following may be heavily inspired by the book, but no spoilers are included for any of the material covered. We apologize for the break from tradition and have been assured more traditional reviews will return next week].
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Ben Travers: Episode 1
“Gracepoint,” on a lot of levels, could very well be the show of my dreams. As a remake of a British critical and commercial smash, it’s clearly trying to take advantage of two trends: the growing market for miniseries and network TV’s quest to create programming on par with cable. It’s as close to “True Detective” as Fox may ever come, clearly crafting the connection between the two cop dramas in its promotion.
Yet, after just its first episode, I worry this is nothing but a generic knockoff. Too many cliches stack up too quickly, and despite what I want to believe — what I’ve hoped could happen all my life — “Gracepoint” doesn’t seem to be the show to bridge the gap between networks.
Most egregious to anyone who’s actually lived in a small town, is the opening sequence, a single, extended tracking shot meant to wow film fans (and poorly imitate “True Detective”). While a little contrived, the shot is included to illustrate that everyone knows everyone in Gracepoint, a tired and untrue observation made by writers who have never lived anywhere with a population of less than 500,000.
It’s not necessarily a death toll, but it accurately foreshadows more trite caricatures to come. Soon after, we’re introduced to Detective Ellie Miller, a local mother of one expecting a big promotion. Instead, it goes to a new guy with more experience (emphasis on “guy,” a call of sexism echoed by Ellie). Both diegetically and as a written character, Ellie doesn’t help herself when she inconsolably calls her hubby from a bathroom stall to cry about her bad luck (which I think we all saw coming).
Her replacement turns out to be Emmett Carver (Tennant) who’s as big of a walking penis as Ellie is a stereotypical “lady cop.” When the call comes in a kid has been murdered, their character cliches continue to rise as Ellie is passive and unsure of herself while Tennant barks orders as if everyone else is that far beneath him. Tennant even delivers the ultimate cop line for grieving parents, somehow making it worse via redundancy: “I swear. We will find the person responsible. You have my word.”
By this point, I’m ready to turn off “Gracepoint” entirely and forever, especially after a hot, smarter-than-thou city reporter shows up to help an equally attractive yokel and unknown tertiary characters are painted suspicious by making Santa’s Little Helper “shifty eyes” in random shots. But then I remember Nick Nolte is in this show (as a gruff outdoorsman of all things). Nick really is the man of my dreams: a stern but evocative, innocent yet terrifying institution of an actor who I trust perhaps more than I should. So I persevere, despite now knowing this show may truly kill me.
Liz Shannon Miller: Episode 1
As I watched the opening minutes of “Gracepoint,” I found that they had a haunting quality to them, one that prepares you for grieving something that’s about to be lost. For me, though, that grieving wasn’t for the young boy whose death kicks off the show’s biggest mysteries. I was grieving for my memory of “Broadchurch.”
The original series isn’t the best television to come out of the UK in the last several years, but when I first watched it, it had an intriguing spark to it — a grounded appreciation of both the procedure and heartache that accompanies death. It went deeper than the typical procedural, yet made enough use of soap opera tropes to keep casual viewers interested. It had the potential of a new relationship, a person you couldn’t quite ever know fully, but couldn’t pull away from.
Seeing “Gracepoint” with awareness of the duplication means making the inevitable comparisons. Why wasn’t the long tracking shot, introducing most of the primary characters/potential suspects, as ambitious and flowing as the one in “Broadchurch”? Why does Anna Gunn, taking over the role played by Olivia Coleman in the British version, inherit the same character name (Ellie Miller) but David Tennant, reprising his role as the senior detective on the case, switch from being Scottish and Alec Hardy to being American(ish) and Emmett Carver?
The clumsier introductions of soon-to-be key characters ends up standing out all the worse, and minor details and character moments cut from the UK to the US versions are tragically missing. “Gracepoint” assumes that you’re interested in what happens — but “Broadchurch” actually put real work into making you care.
The term “carbon copy” gets thrown around a lot as referring to a perfect duplication of a thing. But my memory of carbon copies, the actual transfer of text from the white original to the yellow receipt, is that the copy was always fainter and weaker. Smudged.
Ben Travers: Episode 2
Hello again. I’ve regrouped. I’ve regained my composure. I’m determined now to make my relationship with “Gracepoint” work. Why? Nick. Nick Nolte. Nick is a good man. An honest man. The kind of man you want to trust, even when he delivers a monologue so awash with suspicion it’s amazing he wasn’t forced to make the aforementioned “shifty eyes” throughout the speech.
It’s Nick’s lone, brief, and largely forgettable scene in Episode 2 that gets me past more predictable plot developments such as family members hiding dirty little secrets and an overly-simplistic discussion of moral capability that should make anyone who labeled Rust Cohle’s anecdotes in “True Detective” as “Philosophy 101” rethink their central argument.
Nick’s simple, balls out delivery also helps me get over Emmy-winner Anna Gunn’s over-enunciation of almost every word as well as David Tennant’s Batman-voice. It also helps me forget Michael Pena’s uncharacteristic lapse in commitment as he fades in and out of intensity throughout the first two episodes, despite little time having passed.
His presence is so convincing, it even allows me to overlook his lack of it. During Nick’s monologue, in which he tells the detective a story of another suspicious passer-by, we don’t see much of Nick himself. We see his story recreated via flashback, thus lending credence to a tale that seems partially if not entirely fabricated.
Finally, Nick got me through the episode’s final moments which set up our first real suspect. Obviously we know he didn’t do it, otherwise the show would be over before it started, and all those other shady town folk wouldn’t get their own time under the microscope of Detectives Cocky and Whiner. Hell, even Nick himself will probably be a suspect before this is all over, even though we know he’d never hurt a fly.
Not Nick. Not good, honest, kind Nick. He would never lead me astray. He’d never hurt me. Not Nick. No way.
Liz Shannon Miller: Episode 2
To appreciate “Gracepoint” on its own merits means sliding into a space of self-imposed ignorance, because it becomes easy to fixate on the details of what has and hasn’t changed. Why, in both versions of the early scene where Detective Miller comforts her son in bed, must the son be holding a glass of orange juice? And why has the character of Jack, played originally by David Bradley, found himself completely transformed into a hermit crab listed in the credits as Nick Nolte? The “why” of changes made and details left exactly the same becomes consuming — a whole new level of mystery.
The only consistency to the changes made from “Broadchurch” to “Gracepoint”: Subtlety gets bashed upside the head by either American sensibilities or American TV executives (don’t kid yourself into believing that they’re necessarily one and the same). Just one example: In both versions of the show’s second episode, the editor of the local paper ejects a visiting big city reporter from her office with a subtle dry wit — but “Gracepoint” uses the scene as an opportunity to drop in an official notification of a character’s sexuality. Why bother learning that slowly over the course of this special “mystery event” as the character is given room to grow and develop?
The funny thing is, what I think doesn’t matter. While it was a success in the UK, the ratings “Broadchurch” picked up in the U.S. when reaired on BBC America were middling; Fox does not care about people who might have seen the original, because that number is miniscule. If Fox is very lucky, it’ll attract viewers who remember that David Tennant used to star on “Doctor Who,” or that Anna Gunn was the unsung hero of “Breaking Bad.” If Fox is very very lucky, those people won’t compare “Gracepoint” to any of those other things that have come before.
As for those of us who have seen “Broadchurch,” who were able to chant along with each repeated beat of “Gracepoint,” we’re just out of luck, whether or not we enjoyed the original. Because it turns out that knowing all the sides of a story doesn’t necessarily improve it. You can have all the pieces at your fingertips — the puzzle may still disappoint.
Ben’s Grade: D
Liz’s Grade: D-
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Well, it’s only week two, and what continues to be creepiest about Gracepoint is not what’s happening in the series itself, but rather the déjà-vu effect of watching each episode play out in lockstep with its baby mama, Broadchurch (as before, my thoughts about direct comparisons between these two series will fall below the fold for those not familiar with both). The parallels are overtaking my brain, but my brain wants more from them. While watching this episode, I daydreamed a scene in which Emmett Carver called all his officers in, looked soberly at each, then slipped into his Scottish brogue and said, “My name is Alec Hardy. I came here to solve this crime because it’s eerily similar to one I worked in England. I am starting to believe I am dead and working the same murder case over and over again in a feedback loop of punishment that could only be purgatory. I am paying for my sins."
And then he would regenerate and become Matt Smith.
Right?! If only! Instead, I am — and I suspect many other viewers out there are, too — stuck waiting for something in each episode, something other than minor cultural differences, to surprise us. In an interview with NPR, the show’s executive producer Carolyn Bernstein insisted that the repeat audience for the series was inconsequential, as those seeing Broadchurch on BBC America “represent less than one percent of the American television viewing population.” And while that’s probably factually accurate, she missed a hugely obvious point, the kind of point that a network TV executive would totally miss on purpose: Many, many other people likely watched Broadchurch in other ways. They downloaded it and streamed it. And many of these people are watching Gracepoint expressly to compare it.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, I imagine Bernstein and others at Fox are sitting back, relaxing in their overstuffed leather chairs right now, because this constant flow of “Why did they remake this thing?” media attention can only be upping the series’ profile. Maybe that was partly their motivation in the first place — the story of the show’s creation can sustain it even if the show itself can’t. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Speaking of thinking: my goodness. In this episode, the investigation deepens in manifold ways: The Solanos hand over a list of possible suspects (“These are all your friends,” gawps Miller), $500 is found tucked beneath Danny Solano’s mattress, and a baggie of coke is discovered in his sister’s room. The money remains mysterious for now, but the coke is traced back to inn owner Gemma Fisher, who asked Chloe to procure it for some hard-partying guests. Miller takes it easy on Fisher in questioning, a tactic which prompts Carver to ream her out — and for her to respond by telling him to keep his, “brooding, assaholic, big-city cop act” to himself. She then spits the word “Sir” as an afterthought. Ellie “No More Tears” Miller! Excellent. But I’d have an easier time appreciating this moment if I wasn’t stuck on the word assaholic. He’s addicted to ass? I mean, that seems like a compliment to me. Quick, some American tell Chris Chibnall that he probably meant asshole-y or asshole-ic. Or just asshole. Brits, I tell ya!
Meanwhile, our San Francisco reporter Renee Clemons is trying to embed at the local paper, only to find herself vag-blocked by the editor in chief, Kathy Eaton. In another mystifying dialogue moment, Eaton sidesteps Clemons’s ploy for a desk, shutting down her “we know the same editor guy” tactic by saying, “Yes, I know him. We were lovers, until I realized I didn’t like penises.” Yuck! TMI, Eaton. (But actually, anyone else think that Gemma inviting Kathy for a drink later had something more to it? Something sexy?)
Then there’s a potential psychic who says he “speaks to Danny” and sees something about a boat (and might also know something about Carver and Rosemont), there’s Beth’s grocery-store freak out and subsequent hatchback confession to our lame-duck priest, there’s his subsequent media play (side note: the priest has a Crispin Glover quality. Discuss), there’s Nick “Killer from I Know What You Did Last Summer” Nolte and his elusive backpacker, there’s Mark on the surveillance camera, there’s the creepy lady’s closet skateboard, there’s Danny’s journal entries, there’s some telling fingerprints, and there’s Carver’s mysterious blurry-eyed illness. Whew.
All in all, a loaded episode. One feels the sands shifting beneath the town’s feet, even as the players in this odd game of ocean-adjacent chess reposition themselves behind our backs. Admittedly, there are some deft and dense bits of storytelling here (the same as in episode two of Broadchurch, but still). We have some questions to answer now: Who’s on the Solanos' list? Is the backpacker real? What’s the money about? What’s Mark hiding?
Final thoughts: I’m still not seeing chemistry between Gunn and Tennant, which was present in spades in the U.K. version. I worry about it. I wonder if it’s because Gunn’s not very funny — Olivia Colman, Miller in the U.K. version, is a well-known comedic actress who’s done turns with both Mitchell and Webb and Frost and Pegg, respectively — and that underlying humour (British spelling) and her sense of timing really seeped around Miller’s matronly edges. Gunn is too blandly attractive, too detached. The script and direction aren’t always helpful: There’s too much waiting for lines to land IMPORTANTLY instead of pushing past them into a natural, conversational style. It makes the acting seem stilted and stops us from warming up to our leads. And they had better start warming up to each other soon, or the momentum of the series will get too pinned down by their mutual surliness.
The People vs. Gracepoint vs. Broadchurch (Warning: Potential spoilers ahead, or at least spoiler-y questions/observations)
- Flipping back and forth between episodes, I’m increasingly impressed by Tennant’s acting choices. Emmett and Alec are, for all my joking, really quite different people. If nothing else, we can appreciate that.
- Danny’s journal is a new thing, right? We only got emails and texts in Broadchurch? And certainly not this early? Could this be meaningful? Methinks.
- This episode’s cop talk: “You’re not here to train me!” “I know what I’m doing!” And the aforementioned “assaholic” speech.
- The kind of creepy forest service cabin versus the beautiful beach house in Broadchurch. Very “Cabin in the Woods,” America.
- Danny laughing with a backpacker versus Danny arguing with a mailman. Very “maybe Danny’s just gay,” America.
- Tennant’s detective stabbing himself with a needle (insulin?) versus taking pills. Very “dramatic way to drug yourself,” America.
- Everyone was always jogging off their sadness and stress in the U.K. version. No one jogs here. Very “fattest country in the world,” America.
- Emmett rejects a burrito versus Alec rejects fish and chips. Very “what national staple food and its subsequent rejection can explain a character’s general disagreeableness?,” America.
- An entire RV park on a cliff versus one lonely lady’s trailer. Very “we find groups of weirdos creepier than lone weirdos,” America.
- Mark Solano is terrified and nonthreatening versus Mark Latimer was smug and hit Danny once. Very “different parenting styles,” America.
- Lost surveillance footage due to power outage versus rerecorded CCTV tape. Very “largely inconsequential script choice,” America.
- There was no whale tale in this episode, but there was a sailboat!