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Perfectly composed 'Broadchurch' presents bare-bones, quality television

BBC America

By Kelly Etz, Daily Arts Writer
Published September 16, 2013

From tight plotting to deft acting, there’s nothing unnecessary about “Broadchurch.” It’s the bare bones of what TV can be: no CGI, no fancy camerawork, no extra frills. “Broadchurch” plays like the love child of Poirot and Miss Marple (too weird?) — delightfully restrained and unrelentingly British. If you’re not watching, you’re missing something fantastic.

The eight-part series, created by Chris Chibnall (“Torchwood”), concluded back in April in the UK, but is still finishing up its U.S. run on BBC America. It has already been picked up for a second season, and FOX is in the works for a stateside adaptation to begin filming this January, proof of the near-immediate popularity of the series.

Some of the insta-love can be attributed to “Doctor Who”-favorite David Tennant (floppy-haired and perfectly scruffy) as detective inspector Alec Hardy. Tennant is wonderfully self-restrained here, proving his acting ability is hardly one-note. Hardy is as suspicious as any local, popping pills (just what are those anyway?) and struggling with a pretty self-destructive personality. As an out-of-towner, Hardy brings the threat of the unknown crashing into the tiny hamlet of Broadchurch when he arrives to investigate the murder of an 11-year-old boy, Daniel (Oskar McNamara, “Anna Karenina”).

Dueling Hardy at every turn, local Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Coleman, “The Iron Lady”) is the antithesis of “uninvolved.” Originally up for Detective Inspector, Miller was unceremoniously thrown aside in favor of gate-crashing Hardy. Who should claim seniority over Danny’s case is a constant push-pull between the two leads, creating a zinging tension. The chemistry between Coleman and Tennant is flawless as their rocky relationship clashes at every new turn in the case.

The mystery of Danny’s murder spans all eight episodes, giving the actors and the viewer time to sort through every well placed red herring. Sharp, concise dialogue prevents the series from feeling leaden with detail. Instead, each episode is a shrewd character study, as we watch more and more locals fall under Broadchurch’s collective suspicion. Even Danny’s best friend and Ellie’s son, Tom (Adam Wilson, “Mr Selfridge”), suddenly deletes text messages with decidedly shifty eyes. “Broadchurch” deftly handles the unraveling of a once-tranquil small town, turning idealistic neighborhood intimacy into something ominous and threatening.

Startlingly gritty, the series refuses to shy away from the realties of emotion. Going farther than even “The Killing,” each compact episode will twist up your insides with an expert hand. More than anything, “Broadchurch” feels real, from a grieving mother to a small town reporter intent on his big break to a worrisome reverend. The town is miles away from ideal, which only makes it that more believable.

Enough waxing poetic. Why should you watch this series? Far from “hate-watching,” re-run fueled obscurity or endless second-rate murder mysteries, “Broadchurch” is a metaphorical palate cleanser before the craziness of pilot season. Perfectly composed, the series will remind you of what TV can be when it stops trying so hard. And come on, it’s David Tennant.