America remakes Broadchurch: How well did it work?

by | Oct 3, 2014 | All, Reviews

Presumably you’ve heard about Fox’s highly anticipated new show, Gracepoint, the US remake of Britain’s very successful crime drama Broadchurch.  In both versions, viewers witness the effects of a young boy’s murder on the residents of a small seaside town. I’ve never been a fan of Hollywood’s efforts to reboot UK shows; however, I have committed to watching the entire series and sharing my particular perspective. Like many of you who have seen the BAFTA winning drama, I concede I won’t be seeing Gracepoint through the freshest of eyes either. Therefore my impressions are probably most applicable to those who have watched and appreciated the original franchise.

Here’s what I took away from the “event series premiere” of Gracepoint.

Having recently watched Broadchurch for the second time, it was very evident to me that Gracepoint’s first episode is an almost scene for scene re-enactment of its source material beginning with the image of our young victim, Danny, standing at the top of a cliff side with blood dripping from his fingertips as the waves crash ominously below. Of course this is perfectly understandable since the original and its American offspring were both written by Chris Chibnall.  Broadchurch struck a chord with viewers so it stands to reason its creator would want to duplicate that success in the States by setting up the premise properly.

However, I do have a problem when I hear some of the exact same lines being regurgitated by the new cast. It seems more like mimicry than acting. Hopefully as time goes on, the Gracepoint scripts will cling a bit less closely to the British ones and take on a life of their own.

As for cinematographic elements, I noticed the use of Broadchurch-like slow motion techniques when something dramatic took place such as Danny’s mother Beth (Virginia Kull) being restrained from running to her son’s body on the beach. Again no big surprise since Gracepoint employed James Strong and Euros Lyn, both directors of the original, so the look and feel of the two series could reasonably be expected to be similar.

The final and most glaring parallel between the two shows is that David Tennant reprises his role of DI Alec Hardy only under a new name, Detective Emmett Carver. He has the same heavy stubble, the same off-putting manner and the same baggage from his old job in Rosemont aka Sandbrook.

Understandably Mr. Tennant forgoes his own Scottish brogue for an American accent though for the life of me I can’t determine what dialect he’s trying to imitate. It’s more a dampening of his particular speech patterns than taking on a recognizable US regional accent. I give him kudos for the effort, but as one familiar with Tennant’s range of accents I found it rather distracting.

At this early stage, the differences between the UK and US versions have been slight and mostly in the details. About half the characters’ names have been altered to some degree, but there is an equivalent for all the major players from the original.

The biggest change has to be the transformation of tormented news agent/Sea Brigade leader, Jack Marshall (David Bradley) into wildlife recorder and outdoor sporting equipment rental agent, Jack Reinhold (Nick Nolte). Instead of Danny having a paper route as he did in Broadchurch, he was instead part of the local wildlife club and went out early in the mornings before school to help Jack count whale sightings. This is Northern California after all. My main concern is that Nolte, who has been notably past his prime for a while, will be ham-fisted in this role played so beautifully by his predecessor, David Bradley.

Another apprehension I have is that Anna Gunn of Breaking Bad fame will not meet my admittedly high expectations when it comes to her role as Detective Ellie Miller. I must disclose that I am a devoted Olivia Colman fan and so far Gunn is not bringing the spirit, the heartbreak or the humour to her performance that Colman so adeptly delivered. It’s only the first episode of ten so perhaps I should reserve my judgment until later in the series; nonetheless, Anna has some awfully big shoes to fill.

As for the rest of the actors, I’m not familiar enough with most of them to have any expectations. I am pleased that whoever cast Gracepoint didn’t fall victim to the hackneyed Hollywood stereotype that everyone in town should be above average in looks and sex appeal. In fact, they’ve adhered quite closely to the physical types of Broadchurch’s residents, a choice which I feel gives Gracepoint’s characters an opportunity to be much more relatable than most of its American counterparts.

If I want to be overly critical, (and I guess I do) I find the filming locations in the Southwest of England far more picturesque than the locales selected in Victoria, British Columbia and environs which double as the small Northern Californian coastal town of Gracepoint. The cliffs and sea of West Bay in Dorset are simultaneously awe-inspiring and haunting, more than a backdrop but a character in and of itself. The Canadian beach featured in Gracepoint doesn’t seem to have the same function or impact.

There’s still a long way to go yet for for this 10-part adaptation to win me over. It’s just difficult to get excited about a rehash of a show I’ve already seen done well once before. I’ve read that the identity of Danny’s killer has most probably been changed for this new version so we have the mystery element to look forward to anyhow. Only time will tell, but thus far I’m not convinced that this British-to-American adaptation will be the exception to the rule as a reboot worth making.

Gracepoint Continues Thursday’s on Fox 

Contributed by Carmen Croghan

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

03/10/2014

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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