Broadchurch has been compared to Downton Abbey because of its British-American crossover appeal, and The Killing (only with a satisfying first season conclusion) because of its moody tale of murder. You should probably be watching on BBC America tonight.
The show centers on the mystery of who killed a young boy in a sleepy coastal town called—what else?—Broadchurch. In the pilot, boy's body is found underneath a cliff, at first implying suicide, but it's obviously not just that. The boy died of strangulation. But, as is the case when crime dramas like this are successful, it's really about the people that are alive. Specifically the two detectives—or detective inspectors because this is Britain. One is a woman, recently returned to the force, whose son is a friend of the deceased. The other a newbie in town with a mysterious past.
The show is filled with British actors that you think you know from somewhere, the leads in particular. Olivia Colman you may recognize from Hot Fuzz or The Iron Lady. David Tennant is an obvious name for fans of Doctor Who. And in that first episode, that one that gets you hooked, its really their appeal that draws you in. Tennant, speaking in his natural Scottish brogue, is not as charming as he is as the Doctor, but equally magnetic. Colman's nervous energy is compelling. Though you'll find the premiere relies on some tics—the use of slow motion rather recalls Sherlock —the episode is not just intriguing for the mysteries that will follow, but emotionally affecting. We found ourselves tearing up in places.
Critics are hailing the series. Linda Holmes at NPR writes: "It's rare that television is this good at presenting flawed humanity as both the greatest and most dangerous element of any social structure." James Poniewozik at Time explains that his exhaustion with stories about killers makes his appreciation of Broadchurch only more powerful, and HitFix's Alan Sepinwall notes that it's "about as devastating as you can imagine, precisely because of that simplicity." The Daily Beast's Andrew Romano says that "in certain respects it’s as effective, and as affecting, as The Finest Television of Our Time" and goes on to cite The Wire and others. And while Broadchurch might have had a good chance of becoming Downton Abbey or Sherlock-like phenomenon, it's oddly already getting an American remake.
There's a sequence at the end of the first episode of Broadchurch that recalls something older than a 2013 drama. Perhaps a Dickens novel. Perhaps the board game Clue. The entire town of Broadchurch is watching a detective give a press conference abut a murdered little boy. It mirrors the equally excellent, as Romano points out, scene of that boy's father walking down the street earlier in the episode. Each person watches pretty much alone and the camera hovers on their faces. Here are all the weird—and potentially suspicious—people you are going to meet on this journey, these moments tell you. Remember their faces and their looks. There's something very simplistic about it, but it invites you to watch more. Having not seen more of the series, as some critics have, we will. You will likely too.