[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].
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
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.