Gracepoint, Season 1, Episode 1, “Episode 1”
October 2, 2014, 9:00 p.m. (EST), Fox
There’s a pervasive air of pointlessness surrounding Gracepoint, a show that is an American remake of Broadchurch, a British show broadcast in English just last year. Many of the people who frequently read TV criticism have probably already seen Broadchurch, which got great reviews last year (and was among my favorite shows of the year). Those who haven’t could also just go watch it right now. At only eight episodes long, it would be possible to watch the entire series before Gracepoint airs its second episode. The only reason this show exists is because of the sad fact that Americans don’t watch British television in large numbers, don’t particularly like thick accents on their televisions, and because Fox executives are well aware of both of those things.
To call Gracepoint a blatant cash grab would be at least somewhat unfair, though. The show has assembled a stellar cast including David Tennant (reprising his role from Broadchurch, less a charming brogue), Anna Gunn, Michael Pena, and Nick Nolte, and has brought original creator Chris Chibnall along to make sure things go smoothly. Gracepoint is being touted as a fall event for Fox and being heavily promoted. Seemingly no one involved is looking to take the money and run on this one.
And yet, in its first hour, Gracepoint comes across as oddly hollow, a shinier yet flatter and less distinctive retelling of a story that was told well the first time. It doesn’t help that “Episode One” is a near shot-for-shot remake of the first hour of Broadchuch, which exposes how little this new version even purports to offer, and showcases how much it might lose. The setting of Broadchurch, a quiet little seaside town that feels quintessentially British, doesn’t translate particularly well here to Gracepoint, a northern California seaside town that looks like Anywhere, USA (which is to say, Canada) and feels, if possible, even more anonymous. A large part of Broadchurch’s success is its stellar cast and their lived-in chemistry. It wasn’t hard to buy the idea that the people in that town had known each other for years, knew each other’s stories, had seen each other’s pain. The same isn’t true in Gracepoint, at least not this early on.
The most tangible loss is Olivia Colman, who turned Broadchurch’s Ellie Miller into a completely distinct creation. Her Miller was part Marge Gunderson, part Andy Brennan, but mostly her own woman, with fully realized aspirations and concerns. Anna Gunn is a remarkable actress, but in “Episode One,” she doesn’t do much to make Ellie Miller stand out from a long line of female police officers in American procedurals. Though perhaps the better example of the ephemeral quality that is lost in translation here is Tennant himself. His Alec Hardy was frail and pale, with a cough that wouldn’t quit and ghosts just behind his eyes. He was haunted in a way that felt true, tortured by his past, but by more than that. Hardy felt worn down by the weight of the world and, rarely for that type of character, he felt like he couldn’t really handle the weight. Here, Tennant is Emmett Carver, a grumpy cop who growls his way through just getting the job done, damn it, and while Rosemont promises to bring a similar backstory into this show, it loses what made Hardy special in favor of what threatened to render him generic.
That’s mostly true across the board at this point though. This show feels like a blander version of Broadchurch at every turn; the edges have been sanded smooth, the spices watered down or removed to make Gracepoint more palatable to a larger audience. But even beyond the comparison (which will be hard for me to get past, at least so long as the show is a shot-for-shot remake), “Episode One” never really manages to ramp up the tension inherent to this as a murder mystery. Broadchurch had a similar issue in its pilot, but it accumulated subtle power over time until it became clear it was never particularly interested in being a murder mystery so much as a story about collective grief and its power to unite a community. Gracepoint, too, may become more impactful as this ten episode run progresses, but the show’s promotion seemed to really be priming viewers for a murder mystery, and “Episode One” barely remembers to show us a bunch of potential suspects near the end of the episode.
Gracepoint is pledged to depart from its predecessor at some point (rumor has it as far as halfway through its run), but until then, it is hard to talk about one without talking about the other. I will be writing about the full season here, and I expect that my take will be partially comparative, analyzing what changes there are and also continuing to be fascinated by the psychology of David Tennant, who is currently playing the same character at different points in his timeline, on different continents and with different accents (Broadchurch is coming back for a second series, with Tennant still involved). I also hope to see what Gracepoint becomes when it does bother to become its own thing eventually. There are plenty of directions this show could go in, and almost all of them are more interesting than the not-quite-carbon copy we got here tonight. “Episode One” feels like a blurred Xerox copy of the Broadchurch pilot—you can still make out the basic elements, but everything distinct has become unclear. Hopefully Gracepoint becomes at least a better copy in weeks to come. But I’m holding out hope that it might become something worthwhile in its own right, that it might justify an existence that currently feels utterly meaningless. Until then, I’ll be here, howling at the void, and mourning Danny Latimer. Erm…Solano.
- Nick Nolte is Nick Nolte, and I appreciate that, but I already miss the quietly tragic work David Bradley did in the same role. I’m sure Nolte will bring something great in weeks to come, but here, he only registered enough to make me miss Bradley.
- “Rosemont doesn’t make me uncomfortable. It makes me the best cop you could hope to find.”
- “I would prefer if you don’t call me Miller. I don’t like the last name thing. It’s just Ellie.” “Ellie? Ellie…” “Yeah.” “No.”
- “There will be no hiding place for Danny’s killer. We will catch whoever did this.”
In its first hour, Gracepoint comes across as oddly hollow, a shinier yet flatter and less distinctive retelling of a story that was told well the first time.