A beautiful, brooding meditation on murder and media.
Streaming on Netflix | 2013 | TV-MA | 3 seasons
Genre: British crime drama
Why I watched: Broadchurch has been on my watchlist for ages. I had finished a couple of other more obscure British crime dramas recently, and I was in the mood for more. That's when Broadchurch popped off the screen as I scrolled through my Netflix watchlist.
You might also like: I mean, where to begin? Instead of listing all the amazing shows in this genre, allow me to recommend Doctor Who and Jessica Jones to give you a sense of David Tennant's incredible range as an actor (he also shows up in the Harry Potter series as Barty Crouch, Jr.!). For more of Olivia Colman, check out The Lobster, The Crown, or Fleabag.
Truthfully, I wasn't sure I was going to keep watching after the first few episodes of Broadchurch. The show reveals quickly that a child has died, and it plunges us into the family's—and the tight-knit town's—grief. It's heavy, and a little slow. But I'm glad I stuck with it. By the end of Season One, it's clear that the slow, dark beginning was designed to disorient us in the same way that the town, the family, and the investigators are disoriented. Grief is like moving through molasses; you're surprised to find yourself there in that dark, sticky place, and then it's hard to move and to breathe, and even when you've gotten through the thick of it, it clings to you, and permeates your senses. No wonder no one in Broadchurch can see the Latimer murder clearly.
It's present-day in the sleepy little coastal town in Dorset, England. Things are proceeding like usual, until all of a sudden they're not. Just as Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) returns to work after maternity leave, two unexpected things happen: the promotion she had been promised is given to someone else—a newcomer, Alec Hardy (David Tennant), and an eleven-year-old boy turns up dead. That such a thing happened at all is tragic; but matters are extra complicated because the boy was the best friend of Ellie's son, and the boy was murdered.
DS Miller and DI Hardy (Tennant) make an unlikely partnership. She, friendly, warm, and funny; he, taciturn, grumpy, and haughty. She has never worked a murder case before, while he has done so quite publicly. In fact, he moved to Broadchurch to escape the botched murder case he investigated previously. The fallout from that case follows Hardy to Broadchurch, and so do the media. Reporters (depicted as ruthless, voracious, and immoral) descend on the small, usually quiet town, and their headlines whip the townspeople into a frenzy: false accusations fly, mob mentality rules, and soon another person is dead. Now there are two deaths to investigate. Who is to blame?
It's fun to watch David Tennant in a more serious role than, say, Doctor Who, or his forthcoming Prime series Good Omens, in which he'll play a demon who is BFFs with an angel. He offers up a really compelling performance in Broadchurch, but the true star of the series is Olivia Colman, who recently made a splash with her performance as Queen Anne in The Favourite and her heartfelt acceptance speech for Best Actress at the Oscars last month. She's just brilliant in Broadchurch. Her character is a delightful mix of ballsy, sassy, tenacious, insecure, and quirky. She seems so very human, which is, of course, precisely why people loved that speech. In Broadchurch she strikes this amazing balance between sensitivity and toughness that will just about break your heart. Her character resists the stoicism that TV has taught us to expect from detectives, and we fall in love with her for it.
Broadchurch is a brilliant character study, a compelling murder mystery, and a complex indictment of clickbait and a waning, desperate news media, all wrapped up in a gorgeous bow. (I want to be clear: it doesn't attack journalists or journalism itself (your W2W team supports good journalism!), but rather the pitfalls of today's rocky media landscape, and consumers' voracious appetite for sensationalized content; it's an indictment of tabloid culture.) The show is so beautiful to watch, and it's the perfect pick for weeknight viewing or a quiet weekend at home.