– By Carly Twehous –
Admittedly, I have a bit of a personal vendetta against procedural crime shows.
Let’s do a head count. Name all the cop shows on network television today.
All the variations and flavors of C.S.I., N.C.I.S., and Law & Order, Criminal Minds, Castle, Bones, Blue Bloods, Blindspot, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Sorry, Marvel. I still love you.), plus or minus the constant slew of shows that are brand new and will be pulled from the network before their first season is over.
Ugh. I’m going to put myself to sleep.
Though some of them may have a slightly more intentional hook – or perhaps a fan-favorite star from a greater cinematic universe – when you actually get down to the meat and bones of the weekly installments… Well, carbon copy is the phrase that comes to mind. Dead person in the teaser, cheesy personal drama about characters we don’t really like or care about, red herring, Ah-ha! moment, bag the killer, roll credits.
So, of course, when the Brits said they wanted to try their hand at the immensely popular crime drama, I was… skeptical. Sure, they have Sherlock in their corner, but if you think about it, Sherlock can neither be considered procedural nor a proper crime show in the traditional sense. (It’s a character driven saga and exploration of humanity in the guise of a crime show. Very different.)
The only reason – and I do mean the only one – I waited up to an ungodly hour to watch the world-premiere of Broadchurch is because of David Tennant. I wasn’t too thrilled with the trailers that had consumed every single commercial break of Doctor Who for weeks, nor did I actually have an intention of paying attention to any scene David Tennant wasn’t in.
Honestly, I’d be slightly embarrassed to say how fast Broadchurch reeled me in, if it weren’t so utterly brilliant as a whole.
The difference between Broadchurch and every other crime show in the world? Instead of the constant pattern of crime-angst-arrest-rinse-repeat, Broadchurch offered us one crime, a realistic timeline for solving it, a tiny beach town apparently inhabited only by potential murderers, and… David Tennant.
Broadchurch works because of that devastating scene, where Jodi Whittaker’s character realizes it’s her son’s shoe behind the crime scene tape on that beach. It works, not only because of David Tennant and his beautiful accent, but because of the vitally apparent experience and trauma he brings to his character throughout the run of the show. It’s disturbing in a way I think many American crime dramas are afraid to be and it honest-to-God makes you question the hearts and motives of every damn person in that town.
It works because I could not predict who the killer was until about fifteen seconds before the reveal.
Every episode, the audience is duped into liking someone else in the town, only to be left with a growing sense of dread that maybe they’re the killer, maybe that deep, dark secret we just saw pushed them to murder a seven-year-old, maybe everyone in this damn town is actually capable of murder. This keeps repeating, over and over and over, until everyone’s a viable suspect, until you’re convinced that all the dregs of humanity congregated to this one, tiny town that no one’s ever heard of. Maybe you’re a little convinced that you’re up next for your very own exposé episode, that David Tennant is going to find out about your deepest, darkest secrets you pray will never see the light of day, that maybe you’re capable of…
Heartbreak isn’t the right word – given the circumstances, nauseating might be much more applicable – but maybe heartbreak fully encapsulates the sentiment of that moment.
It wasn’t just the impact on the family of the murdered boy, or just the emotional arc of David Tennant’s character. Every single person in that town was fundamentally changed the day that that crime scene tape went up on the beach. The best part? The audience was able to see that, every step of the way, so when the killer was revealed, the broken heart of one family reverberated through the entire town of immensely imperfect people and, dear Lord, that just burns.
This show picked one crime, spent a season solving the murder, a season following a trial that could easily rival O.J.’s, and, finally, an epilogue season, where everyone can finally own up to their sins, grieve, and try to figure out how to move on. Throw in some deeply complex emotions, a handful of Doctor Who alumni, and a grab-bag of addictions, infidelity, impropriety, and… other icky things that shall not be named in this review, and you get one hell of a portrait of the broken humanity in this small town.
The verdict? This ain’t your average crime show.
Broadchurch earned its place amongst the greatest TV shows of the last decade, fair and square.
For more TV reviews by Carly, click here.