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‘Gracepoint’ Review, ‘Gone Girl’-Style: Two Perspectives on the ‘Broadchurch’ Remake

'Gracepoint' Review, 'Gone Girl'-Style: Two Perspectives on the 'Broadchurch' Remake

[Editor’s Note: The following are diary excerpts from Indiewire’s TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller and TV Critic Ben Travers. Both have watched the first two episodes of “Gracepoint,” but only Miller has seen the original BBC drama, “Broadchurch,” which inspired the new Fox “mystery event.” Neither were able to be reached for further comment, as they have apparently staked out early positions in line to see “Gone Girl” at a local theater in Los Angeles. The following may be heavily inspired by the book, but no spoilers are included for any of the material covered. We apologize for the break from tradition and have been assured more traditional reviews will return next week].

READ MORE: Fox’s ‘Gracepoint’: 5 Things We Learned From David Tennant, Cast and Crew

Ben Travers: Episode 1

“Gracepoint,” on a lot of levels, could very well be the show of my dreams. As a remake of a British critical and commercial smash, it’s clearly trying to take advantage of two trends: the growing market for miniseries and network TV’s quest to create programming on par with cable. It’s as close to “True Detective” as Fox may ever come, clearly crafting the connection between the two cop dramas in its promotion.

Yet, after just its first episode, I worry this is nothing but a generic knockoff. Too many cliches stack up too quickly, and despite what I want to believe — what I’ve hoped could happen all my life — “Gracepoint” doesn’t seem to be the show to bridge the gap between networks.

Most egregious to anyone who’s actually lived in a small town, is the opening sequence, a single, extended tracking shot meant to wow film fans (and poorly imitate “True Detective”). While a little contrived, the shot is included to illustrate that everyone knows everyone in Gracepoint, a tired and untrue observation made by writers who have never lived anywhere with a population of less than 500,000.

It’s not necessarily a death toll, but it accurately foreshadows more trite caricatures to come. Soon after, we’re introduced to Detective Ellie Miller, a local mother of one expecting a big promotion. Instead, it goes to a new guy with more experience (emphasis on “guy,” a call of sexism echoed by Ellie). Both diegetically and as a written character, Ellie doesn’t help herself when she inconsolably calls her hubby from a bathroom stall to cry about her bad luck (which I think we all saw coming). 

Her replacement turns out to be Emmett Carver (Tennant) who’s as big of a walking penis as Ellie is a stereotypical “lady cop.” When the call comes in a kid has been murdered, their character cliches continue to rise as Ellie is passive and unsure of herself while Tennant barks orders as if everyone else is that far beneath him. Tennant even delivers the ultimate cop line for grieving parents, somehow making it worse via redundancy: “I swear. We will find the person responsible. You have my word.”

By this point, I’m ready to turn off “Gracepoint” entirely and forever, especially after a hot, smarter-than-thou city reporter shows up to help an equally attractive yokel and unknown tertiary characters are painted suspicious by making Santa’s Little Helper “shifty eyes” in random shots. But then I remember Nick Nolte is in this show (as a gruff outdoorsman of all things). Nick really is the man of my dreams: a stern but evocative, innocent yet terrifying institution of an actor who I trust perhaps more than I should. So I persevere, despite now knowing this show may truly kill me. 

Liz Shannon Miller: Episode 1

As I watched the opening minutes of “Gracepoint,” I found that they had a haunting quality to them, one that prepares you for grieving something that’s about to be lost. For me, though, that grieving wasn’t for the young boy whose death kicks off the show’s biggest mysteries. I was grieving for my memory of “Broadchurch.”
The original series isn’t the best television to come out of the UK in the last several years, but when I first watched it, it had an intriguing spark to it — a grounded appreciation of both the procedure and heartache that accompanies death. It went deeper than the typical procedural, yet made enough use of soap opera tropes to keep casual viewers interested. It had the potential of a new relationship, a person you couldn’t quite ever know fully, but couldn’t pull away from. 
Seeing “Gracepoint” with awareness of the duplication means making the inevitable comparisons. Why wasn’t the long tracking shot, introducing most of the primary characters/potential suspects, as ambitious and flowing as the one in “Broadchurch”? Why does Anna Gunn, taking over the role played by Olivia Coleman in the British version, inherit the same character name (Ellie Miller) but David Tennant, reprising his role as the senior detective on the case, switch from being Scottish and Alec Hardy to being American(ish) and Emmett Carver? 
The clumsier introductions of soon-to-be key characters ends up standing out all the worse, and minor details and character moments cut from the UK to the US versions are tragically missing. “Gracepoint” assumes that you’re interested in what happens — but “Broadchurch” actually put real work into making you care.
The term “carbon copy” gets thrown around a lot as referring to a perfect duplication of a thing. But my memory of carbon copies, the actual transfer of text from the white original to the yellow receipt, is that the copy was always fainter and weaker. Smudged. 

Ben Travers: Episode 2

Hello again. I’ve regrouped. I’ve regained my composure. I’m determined now to make my relationship with “Gracepoint” work. Why? Nick. Nick Nolte. Nick is a good man. An honest man. The kind of man you want to trust, even when he delivers a monologue so awash with suspicion it’s amazing he wasn’t forced to make the aforementioned “shifty eyes” throughout the speech. 

It’s Nick’s lone, brief, and largely forgettable scene in Episode 2 that gets me past more predictable plot developments such as family members hiding dirty little secrets and an overly-simplistic discussion of moral capability that should make anyone who labeled Rust Cohle’s anecdotes in “True Detective” as “Philosophy 101” rethink their central argument. 

Nick’s simple, balls out delivery also helps me get over Emmy-winner Anna Gunn’s over-enunciation of almost every word as well as David Tennant’s Batman-voice. It also helps me forget Michael Pena’s uncharacteristic lapse in commitment as he fades in and out of intensity throughout the first two episodes, despite little time having passed. 

His presence is so convincing, it even allows me to overlook his lack of it. During Nick’s monologue, in which he tells the detective a story of another suspicious passer-by, we don’t see much of Nick himself. We see his story recreated via flashback, thus lending credence to a tale that seems partially if not entirely fabricated.

Finally, Nick got me through the episode’s final moments which set up our first real suspect. Obviously we know he didn’t do it, otherwise the show would be over before it started, and all those other shady town folk wouldn’t get their own time under the microscope of Detectives Cocky and Whiner. Hell, even Nick himself will probably be a suspect before this is all over, even though we know he’d never hurt a fly.

Not Nick. Not good, honest, kind Nick. He would never lead me astray. He’d never hurt me. Not Nick. No way.

Liz Shannon Miller: Episode 2

To appreciate “Gracepoint” on its own merits means sliding into a space of self-imposed ignorance, because it becomes easy to fixate on the details of what has and hasn’t changed. Why, in both versions of the early scene where Detective Miller comforts her son in bed, must the son be holding a glass of orange juice? And why has the character of Jack, played originally by David Bradley, found himself completely transformed into a hermit crab listed in the credits as Nick Nolte? The “why” of changes made and details left exactly the same becomes consuming — a whole new level of mystery. 
The only consistency to the changes made from “Broadchurch” to “Gracepoint”: Subtlety gets bashed upside the head by either American sensibilities or American TV executives (don’t kid yourself into believing that they’re necessarily one and the same). Just one example: In both versions of the show’s second episode, the editor of the local paper ejects a visiting big city reporter from her office with a subtle dry wit — but “Gracepoint” uses the scene as an opportunity to drop in an official notification of a character’s sexuality. Why bother learning that slowly over the course of this special “mystery event” as the character is given room to grow and develop? 
The funny thing is, what I think doesn’t matter. While it was a success in the UK, the ratings “Broadchurch” picked up in the U.S. when reaired on BBC America were middling; Fox does not care about people who might have seen the original, because that number is miniscule. If Fox is very lucky, it’ll attract viewers who remember that David Tennant used to star on “Doctor Who,” or that Anna Gunn was the unsung hero of “Breaking Bad.” If Fox is very very lucky, those people won’t compare “Gracepoint” to any of those other things that have come before. 
As for those of us who have seen “Broadchurch,” who were able to chant along with each repeated beat of “Gracepoint,” we’re just out of luck, whether or not we enjoyed the original. Because it turns out that knowing all the sides of a story doesn’t necessarily improve it. You can have all the pieces at your fingertips — the puzzle may still disappoint.

Ben’s Grade: D

Liz’s Grade: D-

READ MORE: Fall TV Preview: Thursday Night Football Aims to Overcome ‘Scandal’ Without Falling From ‘Gracepoint’

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