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At First Blush: BROADCHURCH Premieres ... With A Vengeance

  • Mar 28, 2014
It’s not always easy to review an entire run of one program’s season.  For starters, some U.S. shows can be well over twenty individual hourly episodes, and that’s a daunting investment of time not only on the part of the critic but also on the part of the readers.  In fact, I’ve often argued that it’s practically torturous to even try to do that to myself much less those who read … which is why I came up with this idea called ‘At First Blush.’  The premise behind it is to see how the show launches in its pilot episode for the sole purpose of determining whether or not that hour (or so) is credible enough to rise to the level of encouraging you – the viewer – to make a greater investment.
Want to know how BROADCHURCH scores?  Stay tuned.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
In the seaside haven known as Broadchurch, everyone is on a first-name basis.  The police, the newspaper, the businesspeople.  Everyone is your friend, and everyone is always looking out for his or her fellow neighbor.  But one morning the body of an eleven-year-old boy is found on the beach, leaving newly hired Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (played by a surprisingly grizzled David Tennant of DOCTOR WHO fame) to start asking questions no one wants to ask.  Before all is said and done, he might expose more secrets than any one town should keep.
In the early 90’s, a little show called TWIN PEAKS was all the rage … for all of about fifteen minutes of fame.  That isn’t because the program didn’t have ‘legs’ or characters or good stories; rather, it’s because creator/showrunner David Lynch veered in wildly unpredictable directions, so much so he spent more time confusing viewers with symbolism than he ever did answering any of the mystery’s best questions.  Performances were solid though sometimes unnecessarily quirky, but what also worked for me – its central conceit – was that the ‘small town motif’ was little more than a massive con job on the part of the populace.  PEAKS always reminded us that there were dark deeds afoot when you pulled back that small town veneer, and these were the kinds of things that could get you killed.
BROADCHURCH feels much the same way.  Broadchurch (the town) is meant to be anywhere – any town – with its resident do-gooders and well-wishers.  This first episode is launched with a long sequence of a character walking through the downtown area, greeting every passerby with a welcome nod or a kind word; and it’s all meant to invoke that feeling of serenity common to these storybook streets.  Everyone knows everyone else … but do they really?
Those suspicions continue to mount over this first episode.  Smartly shot and keenly assembled, BROADCHURCH’s initial hour (45 minutes, really) is laced with an eerily haunting scores, characters giving second glances into the camera, and cleverly suggestive cinematography.  Nothing here is what it seems – not the work promotion you were promised, not the safety and security small towns supposedly offered – and I suspect it’ll all start bubbling to the surface relatively quickly.  Even our lead investigator is harboring some secret involving his handling of a past case, so maybe – just maybe – that lone voice of comfort calling the shots might have his own skeleton (or two?) in a closet back home.
While there’s a respectable amount of predictability to a few moments (a grieving father continues to refer to his deceased son with a friendly nickname; too many inter-related characters always spoil the brew), BROADCHURCH is crafted with great care and affection, the kind of which compels the typical viewer to watch closely, don’t look away, for fear of missing some vital link, some important clue, that’ll cast these events in a new light.  Granted, it’s only a first hour, but it’s so smartly made I can give it room to breathe.
Who knows what we’ll find?
BROADCHURCH: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON is produced by Kudos Film and Television, Imaginary Friends, and Independent Television (ITV).  DVD distribution is being handled by E One Entertainment (aka Entertainment One).  As for the technical specifications, wow!  This smartly assembled production puts together some terrific cinematography and sterling sound work, all of it capturing an almost macabre undercurrent to such an idyllic seaside setting.  Lastly, if it’s special features you want, then you have a behind-the-scenes short and some deleted scenes to look forward to: not a great package, but at least they threw in something.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  Sure, I’m going into this full well with the knowledge that I’ve only seen the first episode, but the first episode of BROACHURCH is a simmering doozy.  It has everything one could want – tragedy, mystery, and misery – and then some, packing in a handful of characters whose motivations might not be as clear as they appear at first blush.  There were a few moments of predictable pathos and even one moment of horribly inauthentic dialogue, but that’s a small price to pay for something that looks to be this inviting.  Murder rarely looks this delicious.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at E One Entertainment (aka Entertainment One) provided me with a DVD copy of BROADCHURCH: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.

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About the reviewer
Ed ()
Ranked #4
What? You don't know enough about me from the picture? Get a clue! I'm a graduate from the School of Hard Knocks! You can find me around the web as "Trekscribbler" or "Manchops".   … more
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