Sunday, September 01, 2013


I heard some good things about the British television series Broadchurch, so I've been collecting episodes on my DVR. This weekend, I watched the four that have aired here in the US.

It's good--I mean, it's fine. It's not gotten under my skin at all, and David Tennant looks like hell. His character is brusque and asocial, plus he's got some kind of Deep Dark Medical Secret--and he's not really rising above the cliche in my book. He's got terrible facial hair--not stubbly enough to be attractive, not thick enough to really be a beard. He's terribly terribly thin, and honestly? His character doesn't really get much screen time either, so there's not much time for him to establish a character.

On the other hand, Olivia Colman as DS Ellie Miller is really good--by which I mean that she is really trying to be good at her job while treating the people in her small town with kindness and decency. She was all but promised the promotion that went to Alec Hardy (Tennant's character), and her bitterness is understandable. Yet she works every day to rise above that, to learn from her new boss, to treat him with humanity and warmth, despite the fact that he doesn't return the favor.

The story so far--eleven year old Danny Lattimer was found dead on the beach outside Broadchurch, on the Dorset coast. His family didn't notice him missing, because he had a paper route and so he was out of the house before anybody else was awake. When he didn't show up for a school event, his mother became worried, and then the body was found.

So the investigation gets us into this small town that has never had much in the way of crime, and never a murder before. Does it work? Well, yes, and no.

The series is created by Chris Chibnall, whose record as a script writer on some other series I watch has been hit-or-miss. Broadchurch isn't as clunky and odd as "Cyberwoman" from Torchwood or "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" for Doctor Who, so that's good. The scope has been kept resolutely small, tightly on the people. Even when the big institutional conflicts are loaded into place--police versus journalists, notably--the focus stays tight. When the crusading reporter from London shows up, she doesn't worm her way into their confidence in order to get a by-line. In fact, she seems to be doing very little reporting at all. As she eventually reveals, she's there because she is keeping an eye on Alec Hardy, to make sure he doesn't screw up this case as he had recently done on another one.

The ambitious journalist is a local boy, who is so hot to get noticed that he identifies the victim on Twitter--and his editor frog marches him around town to apologize for having done so. Which is not something you see all that often.

Even so, the characters and their relationships aren't very well established, not enough that I particularly care about their struggles. This is most obvious when Tennant's character passes out in his hotel bathroom and wakes up in hospital. The hotel manager is sitting there, and he begs her not to let anyone know about his medical condition--"They'll take me off the case, and I don't want to be off this case. Please. This is my career. This is my life."

Sure, it's important to him--but why should we (the audience) care about his feelings when he gratuitously refuses to care about anybody else's? Maybe it would be a good thing for him to be forced off the case--since the point of medical disability is that a condition like he has gets in the way of being able to actually solve something like a murder. Where is his concern for that?

The pace is rather slow, and it's hard to tell how much time the story spans. Halfway through the eight episode series, and the police haven't even looked at anything from the boy's computer. They did just locate his phone, so perhaps the digital data will appear in the next episode.

And yet--I'm drawn in at some level. I was able to stop midway through House of Cards and Orange is the New Black without much difficulty. Broadchurch is different. I want to see the rest of the episodes, because it feels like this is taking me somewhere. The characters feel like they have been set up in order to have real character arcs kick in. It's not just a question of wanting to know whodunit--there is something more fundamental, more human, that I'm experiencing.

But because it is a mystery, ad we will have a killer--who do I think is going to be revealed as the murderer? I'm putting this here, so I have to admit to getting it wrong if I am wrong.

The methodology? I'm going with the "least likely suspect" and I'm picking Tom Miller--DS Ellie Miller's son and the victim's best friend. He was shown deleting text messages and social media connections, he's been established as very good with computers, and he was a Sea Scout, so trained in using boats. There is reason to believe that Danny Lattimer's body was placed on the beach from a boat, and one was just burned, apparently to hide evidence. Tom knows about boats, and he's been salted into the story just enough as Danny's friend and Ellie's son--but not as a suspect.

Initially, I was leaning toward the local Anglican priest, played by that Very Nice Young Man, Rory Pond from Doctor Who--Arthur Darville. But in episode four, he was placed at the top of the suspects list for not having an alibi at the time of death, and he acted too suspicious about having insomnia. So he's actually too obviously a suspect to be the murderer.

Don't know how I'm going to wait another 4 weeks before I get to the end of this story.

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