Last night was the premiere of Gracepoint, the Americanization of Broadchurch, a BBC series that ran for 8 episodes in 2013 and starred David Tennant and Olivia Colman. The American series will be ten episodes, and also stars David Tennant, but now he’s paired with Anna Gunn, who played Skyler White in Breaking Bad. Full Disclosure: I have never seen an episode of Breaking Bad. I know! And I’ll get there, just please let me get through The Wire first…
Anyway, since I’ve seen Broadchurch, I want to look at the changes between it and the American version, but mostly I want to talk about David Tennant’s accent.
First of all, “Gracepoint” is the symbolic-sounding name of a small town, halfway between San Francisco and the Oregon border. Ellie is a detective in the town, well-liked, highly ranked, and next in line for the top position. But then she comes back from vacation to discover that her job has been snapped up by another detective, Emmett Carver. A few minutes after she learns this news, she gets called to the beach, where she learns two things that are going to shape the rest of the series: her nine-year-old son’s best friend, Danny Solano, is dead, and her new boss is an irascible jerk.
The opening episode covers Ellie’s missteps as she begins her first suspicious death case. It also shows how the mood of the town begins to change once it becomes clear that Danny’s death was a murder, and it characterizes Carver as an angry, awkward outsider, all of which is par for the course in murder mysteries. The premiere also introduces us to the rest of the victim’s family—Mark, Beth, Chloe, and Grandma. The show chooses to linger over the scene where they react to Danny’s death, and stretches the moment out to extremely uncomfortable levels. This works to establish Gracepoint as a different kind of mystery, where rather than just focusing on the Whodunnit? aspect, the viewers are going to have to spend time reckoning with the consequences of this crime, and the way horror ripples through a community.
Speaking of community, we meet several of the townsfolk: Owen, the young reporter who tramples over decorum and common decency to get a scoop; Gemma Fischer, who runs the local hotel; Paul Coates, the town’s priest; Ellie’s husband and two sons; and Jack Reinhold, who runs a local wildlife club for the kids.
Gracepoint is being promoted with the hashtag “Suspect Everyone” and they’ve certainly set us up to do just that. The show’s producers have claimed that the killer in this version will be different than the one in the British, so it should be interesting to see how they seed suspicion in throughout the series. The greatest strength of the original Broadchurch was the way it brought the town to life; every single person, no matter how seemingly minor, had a story, a past, a heartbreak, and often a motivation for murder. The British show asked whether this town, ripped apart by Danny’s death, could ever be a whole again—and then it asked whether it even deserved to be. Like most good mysteries, the detectives acted not so much as sleuths but as moral compasses who would restore order to the town even if it meant endangering themselves. So far, I feel like the original show did this slightly better, but it could also be that having seen the show, I’m anticipating its emotional beats.
Now let’s talk about the reason were all here. David Tennant’s accent. Does it work? Is it convincing? Is he Hugh Laurie in House or… David Tennant in Rex is Not Your Lawyer? Honestly, so far it’s working for me, but I still have to get used to it. I’ve heard his natural Scottish burr and his Doctor Who/Fright Night over-enunciated voice, so hearing an attempt at a flat, growly drawl is still a bit startling for me. I keep waiting for a flash of wit or a jolly “WEAAAALLLLLL…” But the bitten off lines work well for the character—if anything he’s even more of a grouch than Alec Hardy was in Broadchurch. My real problem with it was that the show explains his accent away with a flippant, “He’s from the city” which is fine but… which city? The closest city is San Francisco, and he does not sound Californian to me. I kept wishing they’d just go full Columbo and make him a New York cop who ends up in California and has to adapt, rather than just trying to keep things vague.
Anna Gunn is convincing as Ellie—a bit less sure of herself than her British counterpart, but she’s already creating a great portrait of a woman whose confidence in herself is undermined by the sudden demands of the case. And, maybe most importantly, all the members of the Solano family are excellent. The scenes of their grief have been affecting without ever getting maudlin, and I’m excited to see how the characters change as the case evolves, and darker truths come out.
Gracepoint does a great job creating mood and tone. The cliffs are properly menacing, and the crash of waves on the beach is even more of an existential reminder of Danny’s death than the gentler surf of Broadchurch.
I loved the throwaway bits of Americanization, the way American Beth drove Danny to the beach when he was a baby, while British Beth walked; the way Danny’s morning activity is now a volunteer nature club rather than a paper route; and the way everyone agrees that Ellie’s vacation was too short, because of course it was, she’s an American.
A few things that still don’t work: the kids in this show go to bed absurdly early. Ellie gets home and has to break the news of Danny’s death to her son Tom (who seems to already know…?) and the sun is still up, but the kid is lying in bed under a blanket. Even if it’s full summer in California, and the sun sets a bit later, would a nine-year-old be in bed already? No. He’d be on the computer playing games and chatting with eight different other nine-year-olds, who were also all still awake.
It seemed cruel to make the hotelier British! David Tennant seemed to resent that she could use her real accent, you could see it in his eyes.
The show creates a good mood, but I do think they should have packed a little more tension in. Is there a panic about kids’ safety when the news is announced?
Owen The Cub Reporter/Probable Failed Competitive Surfer is such a tool. I’m excited to see more of his mishaps.
I am excited to see Nick Nolte as Jack Reinhold! He’s like a living barnacle. What maritime wisdom will issue forth from those cracked lips?
So what did everyone think? Anyone out there watching this story for the first time? Any accent slip-ups that I missed?