Monday, 20 March 2017

TV Review: Broadchurch is carried by its performances at the series midpoint

Contains spoilers.

Narrative momentum are two words that rarely come surrounded in positive connotations when it comes to whodunnit crime dramas. More often than not, they all follow the same structure: episode one will deal with a crime; episode two will introduce suspects; everything between that point and the penultimate episode is used solely for red herrings, false alarms and character growth; finally, everything comes out in the finale. It's a tried and tested formula, we know it works. Yet, even in the most successful examples, it creates the kind of narrative that always risks turning stale at any moment.

It's pretty exciting, then, to see that Broadchurch is willing to wrap up a few of its most notable dangling threads so soon. After two episodes of suspect interviewing and blame passing, we're getting answers. The man that Trish slept with on the morning of her assault was her best friend's husband, Jim Atwood. The person who sent the abusive texts to Trish days after her assault was her estranged husband Ian's new girlfriend. Granted, this takes us no closer to discovering who Trish's rapist is, but it allows for a renewed focus heading into the back half of the series.

It's probably possible to massively over analyse this, and read so far into who has been revealed as what so far that we can start to rule people out. Would so much focus be put on Jim so early on if he is eventually to be revealed as the rapist? Is the ex-husband archetype all too obvious? Push these aside though, and we find more questions still unanswered. Who sent Trish the flowers and mysterious note? Why is salesman Leo Humphries so blunt and aggressive? There's a lot still to learn.

All that in mind, Broadchurch is balancing itself nicely at this point in time. Answers and questions are dropping in equal measure, creating a simultaneous sense of both mystery and resolve. It's easy for detective dramas to stall for so long that the detectives themselves can't help but feel lacklustre - Broadchurch isn't slipping into that pitfall. Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller are still great at their job, and Tennant and Colman are still great in their performances - the way Tennant played that wonderfully awkward date sequence was a delight, as was the disgust on Colman's face during the interview with Aaron Mayford.

Even with this sense of narrative momentum, though, Broadchurch's third series still feels as if its unsure of itself. The general supporting cast remain frustratingly under written, bar one or two exceptions - Lindsay Lucas may be the most heartbreaking secondary character the show has written this series. The story feels full swing now, but Broadchurch as a show still seems to be holding back. It makes for a more satisfying fourth episode, but the cracks in the series three's foundations aren't getting any closer to sealing up. If they don't, we could be in for a solid ride to the finish line but a pretty shoddy celebration.

  • I didn't have time to talk about Mark and all of that in the review, so let's look at there here. He's paid some guy to track down Joe Miller, is keeping that from his friends and family, and is trying to recruit Paul the Reverend to come with him to find him. The less said about all of this the better, really. Broadchurch either needs to tie Mark Latimer into the main story more closely, or it needs to reduce him to a tertiary character. As brilliant as Andrew Buchan is in the role, I'm leaning more towards the latter.
  • The football sequence was really well played. I half expected a tonne of stuff to kick off (pun intended, not sorry) and for everything to go haywire for some cheap drama, so writer Chris Chibnall handled that moment well.
  • It's really worth noting how reliably good the performances are in this show - even aside from Tennant and Colman, everyone is terrific. Julie Hesmondhalgh, Arthur Darvill, Georgina Campbell, Jodie Whitaker, Andrew Buchan, Charlotte Beaumont, Chris Mason. Everyone is consistently on top form, it really adds to the atmosphere of the show.
  • Ellie bumping into Alec after his date was brilliantly funny.
  • In fact, that whole date scene and everything leading up to it make a strong case for the highlights of the episode. It's nice to see Ellie laugh at Alec in a light hearted way, and even more pleasing to watch Alec in such a gently awkward situation. It reminds us that these people are human, that they do have characteristics and identities outside of the misery that is their work life.
  • "Was that you being a supportive boss?" "Yeah. No good?" "Awful."

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