Tuesday, 28 February 2017

TV Review: Broadchurch kicks off its final season in confident style

Contains Spoilers.

An opening shot of a beach? Check. Giant, sweeping camera angles over scenic locations? Check. Olivia Colman shouting at her on-screen son? Check. Yep, it can only be Broadchurch.

This show got off to a flying start with its debut season back in 2013, gripping the nation with its groundbreaking depiction of the somewhat tired "whodunnit" story, focusing on the death of Daniel Latimer. Two years later it dropped its second series, and things didn't go as smoothly. One half of the plot was devoted to Joe Miller's court case, which did little beyond reminding viewers of the series they'd already seen, and the other half failed to really grip the country in the same way the show managed in its first year. Ratings remained high, but critics turned against it and it was impossible not to feel that a once great show had lost its magic frustratingly early on.

So here we are again as the show returns for its third and final series. This time, all notions of murder have been pushed aside and we instead focus on a serious sexual assault. Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) are called in to speak to Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh), who has reported being sexually assaulted at her friend's birthday party. While a new case begins, we, meanwhile, catch up with the likes of Beth and Mark Latimer (Jodie Whittaker and Andrew Buchan) and their daughter Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont), looking at how they're living post Joe Miller trial.

After the show's second series fell victim to treading water for far too long and spending an unforgivable amount of time merely reiterating facts we already knew, it's promising to see Series Three try something a little different. The show still looks and sounds the same - which is terrific, the cinematography and soundtrack that Broadchurch offers are some of the best on British TV - but it's forging a new path. It needs to be careful not to stray too far from the familiar, it still needs to feel like Broadchurch after all, and this episode did little to ignite that fear. Hopefully it stays this well balanced.

Most of this premiere's A-plot is executed well. It moves quickly, even starting two days after the assault took place, and details are uncovered fast. We're reintroduced to the lead characters without any hesitation, and bar the odd exposition infused line - Ellie's dad dropping in the whole "Y'know, since your mother..." felt horribly forced - they're both as engagingly written as ever. Tennant and Colman are reliably on form, their verbal sparring is still a highlight and the way the episode even pulls out some humour between the pair is admirable.

Away from the central plot, things get a bit more iffy. Mark's reintroduction works fine, but Beth's is more forced. We're told she has a new job, working for a charity that supports victimised or suffering women, and it feels natural to begin with. Beth has essentially been a victim herself and she has suffered, it's a good progression for her as a character. By the time the scene's up, though, she's already been pushed into the lead case to act as Trish's support. It feels rushed and doesn't allow Beth the same slow and steady reemergence that benefited Mark. It works on paper, but the execution is mishandled.

Still, this only really damages one scene, as once we move back into the A-plot again things start to feel more confident. Broadchurch has always been excellent on surface level, and these strengths are demonstrated again tonight. This may have lacked the emotional gut punch of the show's very first episode, and maybe didn't quite recapture that heart stopping moment when Joe Miller pleaded Not Guilty and plummeted us into a series we didn't expect to see, but it's a focused and tightly packed premiere that pushes Broadchurch back in the right direction. Let's hope it stays there this time.

Notes -
  • The cinematography in this show really is gorgeous. That vertical panning shot of the Manor grounds was stunning, and the way it toys with focus is frequently impressive.
  • I really liked the little detour into the school, with Ellie's son. In fact, the episode did a good job of reconnecting both cops with their kids, it helps to humanise them and remind us that they're more than their work.
  • After the entire Joe Miller trial fell apart because Hardy and Miller weren't very careful and broke some Police regulations, you'd think Ellie would have learnt her lesson and started making a conscious effort not to do it again, right? Nope, she gives Trish her personal phone number almost right off the bat. I'm glad the show addresses that it's wrong, but that still doesn't really work in the grand scheme of things.
  • I got very excited when that iconic music started playing at the end. It's so damn good.
  • I don't quite think Series Three will manage to hit the terrific heights of Series One, I just need it to be better than Series Two. Okay, show? Good.

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