As a card-carrying member of the pessimist's society, I can usually find something I don't like about just about anything. What can I say? I have a gift. That was until I watched Broadchurch on Netflix a few weeks back.
I got home from work one day and my wife mentioned she was flipping through the Netflix guide during one of those rare moments of quiet solitude that a stay-at-home mother gets when she's locked all her kids into separate rooms to get some peace. It was during this brief reprieve from fighting, screaming, and squabbling that she stumbled onto a show called "Broadchurch". She read the description snippet, thought it sounded pretty good, and gave it a shot.
By the time I arrived home that day, she had watched the first three episodes and was telling me how gripping the story was. Once we got the kids to bed, she told me, we would sit down and watch the first three episodes together so I could catch up with her.
I must admit I was skeptical. The cover showed that crazy guy from Harry Potter, who kept sticking out his tongue like a snake while talking to people, along with a woman who I did not recognize, and therefore assumed could not be a legitimate actress. (Because it stands to reason, of course, if I don't know who they are, they must not be very good - right?). I couldn't see that tongue-nutter from Harry Potter as anything but, well, that tongue-nutter. (I have since discovered that the aforementioned tongue-nutter also starred as the lead in a little show called Dr. Who). How could this show be any good when led by two people I didn't trust to deliver?
I was wrong.
Broadchurch simply blew me away from the very beginning. The show is about the titular named vacation town of Broadchurch in England where the body of a twelve-year-old boy is discovered on the beach. (For the record, "titular" means something pertaining to titles, not what you first thought you perv. I know, I was disappointed too.) I thought at first the show was sort of like all the other "murder mystery" shows on TV, where in each episode, they find a body, interview people, track and catch the killer and cut to the closing credits. In contradiction, Broadchurch is more of a mini-series, where the entire first series of 8 episodes cover the investigation of the one murder.
Broadchurch is a small coastal town equivalent of the Boston bar, Cheers, where everyone knows everyone. While the show's central plot line revolves around the discovery and identification of the boy's killer, it evolves and expands into a character drama, where nearly everyone is a suspect and the townsfolk begin to suspect one another. The story, therefore, becomes almost as much about what the murder does to the town, as it is about the murder itself.
What does the show do well?
In short, everything. The writing is incredible and the story is constantly evolving, clues are brought forward slowly and deliberately to ensure the writers never really show their hand too soon. In fact, up until the killer was actually revealed, I had no idea who did it. (More on that later. - Don't worry though it's spoiler free). It is a fantastic example of foreshadowing and how to write a mystery in that as the detectives learn facts and discover evidence in the murder, it doesn't close things down too quickly. You are led along on a merry journey, never knowing where it will end up. The revealed evidence simply elaborates more about the murder, and does not rule out or confirm any of the suspects, but rather seems to point you to conclude more and more people could have done it.
The dialogue was great, terse and never bloated. The characters were real and very unique, from the plumber father, the sort-of-stay-at-home-mother, to the young vicar and the mysterious old man who runs the local gift shop. (Played by none other than Harry Potter alum David Bradley)
The acting was phenomenal, and though I didn't recognize most of the cast, they were all spectacular. Usually shows like this have ringers for cast members that make up the central ring and focal cast, but the secondary and tertiary characters are played by lesser actors. Not the case here. Even characters with limited screen time play their parts like Oscar winners.
The show is heavy (as you would expect in the event of a child's murder), and the cast carries the emotional toll to the screen with expert performances all around. The cinematography is eye-watering in its beauty. It's filmed almost like an independent movie, where the background and setting is used to convey emotion. Like an indy style film, there are somber moments of quiet, no dialogue and no action. But unlike indy films it doesn't seem cliché at all (which is why I hate most indy work). The show doesn't seem to try too hard, it effortlessly uses the cliff faced coastal scenery to maximum advantage. Even the music communicates emotions from start to finish in each episode.
What the show does poorly.
In short? Not much. Though as a pessimist in nature I can usually find something wrong with just about anything, I really can't think of anything I didn't like about this show. I have literally raved about it to just about everyone I know.
The only thing that might throw people, and was a slight hangup for me, is that Broadchurch doesn't follow the typical 'murder-mystery-formula'. By that I mean most murder mysteries slowly reveal clues about the murder, the victim and the suspects and establish motive, means, and opportunity for several characters. The means is usually easy, because they find a body and figure out the cause of death. Then the writers reveal any number of people who wanted the victim dead and could have done it.
Broadchurch doesn't do this, and it might throw you a bit. While Broadchurch gives you the means, and gives you several suspicious characters, it never establishes a motive for anyone. I don't think this is bad, I simply think they were trying to do something different, out of the box if you will. When the killer is revealed (again, I will not spoil it for you), you don't understand why they did it, until they tell you and everything slots together to make perfect sense. This is the most unique part of the show, in that while you're wracking your brain trying to figure out who did it, you know several people who could have done it, but you don't know of anyone who WANTED to do it. I think this missing element helps to enrich the mystery, but as with anything different, it could be confusing or cause the revelation to be a bit out of left field when it comes.
In the end I highly recommend Broadchurch to anyone who likes good television or movies. It's movie quality entertainment for sure. I recently found out there is a second series of the show, and I am searching high and low to find a way to watch it.