Just when Americans were finally getting over their inferiority complex regarding British television, here’s “Gracepoint,” a remake of the haunting British murder-drama “Broadchurch,” to ensure a relapse. The series premieres Thursday.
The success of the “The Office” American-style has spurred all manner of transatlantic remakes, but with “Gracepoint,” Fox sped up the process to near-absurdity. “Broadchurch” debuted here only last summer on BBC America, and a second season is in the works. Fox also decided that David Tennant, who starred in “Broadchurch” as the ill-shaven and troubled Det. Inspector Alec Hardy, should star in “Gracepoint” as the ill-shaven and troubled Det. Emmett Carver.
As in “Broadchurch,” Carver has just been hired as head homicide detective in small coastal town, a big-city outsider taking the job from deserving native Ellie Miller, here played by Anna Gunn. He arrives just as the body of Danny Solano, a local boy, is found on the beach, sending the close-knit community into a maelstrom of first grief, then fear, then mutual suspicion. Working from the devastated Solano family outward, the crime and its investigation rip all picaresque self-complacency away, revealing all manner of secrets, lies and bitter back stories.
Meanwhile, Carver and Miller, and their world views, clash before each are forced to admit that reality is more complicated, and treacherous, than either cynicism or sentiment allows.
Fox is betting, correctly, that most Americans have never seen “Broadchurch” and so will come to “Gracepoint” with no expectations beyond, perhaps, excitement over the cast. This is Gunn’s first post-"Breaking Bad” role and Tennant’s official American debut. Nick Nolte costars, as does the recently Oscar-nominated Jacki Weaver.
“Gracepoint” certainly has higher ambitious than many broadcast crime dramas. As with the original, the story focuses more on the widespread impact of violence than its clever investigation.
But with Tennant providing so obvious an overlap, it’s all but impossible to discuss “Gracepoint” without comparing it with “Broadchurch,” beside which it seems intentionally dumbed down. Tennant, who brought “Dr. Who” international attention as the rakishly romantic 10th Doctor, has a wide and besotted fan base in this country, and they need to know that he is nowhere near as good in “Gracepoint” as he is in “Broadchurch.”
For one thing, Chris Chibnall, who created “Broadchurch” and wrote the pilot for “Gracepoint,” has made Emmett an American. And while the Scottish actor can easily go British, the American accent defies him.
The coastal-town milieu of “Gracepoint,” so vivid in and integral to “Broadchurch,” seems just as fake as Tennant’s accent, possibly for the same reason. Small towns in America also have regional quirks that do not directly line up with other small towns in America, much less with those in Dorset.
Fidelity may be a virtue in marriage but not necessarily in adaptation. “Gracepoint” is not a shot-by-shot remake, but it’s pretty dang close. In early episodes, the changes boil down to general heightening of Just About Everything.
Carver and Miller are overly burdened with odd-couple status — she beams, he glowers; she thinks he’s inhumane, he thinks she’s a light-weight, etc. With the exception of Danny’s mother, Beth, played heartbreakingly by Virginia Kull, the rest of the roles hover closer to caricature than character. The anxious clergyman, the predatory reporter, the menacing dog lady, the gruff quasi-Scout master, all the of whom made perfect sense in the town of Broadchurch, seem out of place in the California-coastal Gracepoint.
Even Ellie, a role that Olivia Colman used to steal virtually every scene from her more famous co-star in “Broadchurch,” seems more a version than a real woman who’s son’s best friend has been murdered on the same day her long-awaited promotion has been given to a man.
In America, small town or not, an ambitious detective like Ellie would be going straight to HR, putting the Solano family into grief counseling and grilling her own son about exactly what Danny was up to before his death.
Instead of trying to make Tennant’s character an American, perhaps Chibnall should have focused on Gunn’s.
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When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-14-DLV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and violence)