**NOTE: SPOILERS BELOW!**
There's something so satisfying when a series is even better than you had imagined. Showcase's ads for Broadchurch tout the eight-episode series as "Britain's biggest new drama since Downton Abbey" -- a bold statement. I, for one, never jumped on the train to Downton Abbey but I've heard enough of the buzz and knew that Broadchurch has a lot to live up to. And, boy, does it.
In a nutshell, the series centres on a missing 11-year-old boy, who winds up being found dead on the small town's beach, at the foot of a cliff. Right from the start, it seems like a suicide, but as the evidence rolls in, what could've been ruled as an accident or a tragic-but-willing jump is soon determined to be much more when foul play is ruled a factor. (My apologies in advance but since the series has already aired in the U.K., where recaps of episodes -- not to mention the revelation of whodunit -- are readily available, I am a little more liberal with my spoilers here.)
It borrows from The Killing, but unlike that series, which I was bored of after the second episode, Broadchurch's first two hours had me absolutely captivated, thanks to the brilliant writing (of Chris Chibnall) and acting of every single cast member. Plus, unlike The Killing, we definitely learn by the eighth and final episode who killed Danny Latimer (though a second season is already being planned).
It's the little things that'll get you, like shots of innocent children Danny's age engaged in child-like games (potato-sack races, hula-hooping) during his school's sports day, which he should be enjoying too, that make the impact of his death hit that much harder. And I love one of the first scenes, a single-take sequence which follows Mark Latimer (Andrew Buchan), Danny's dad and town plumber walking, from home to work all while cheerfully greeting just about everyone who crosses his path. It hammers home just how small a town the fictional Broadchurch is, where the residents likely don't lock their doors, carefree children walk to and from school and nothing awful ever happens.
But something awful does happen, and for all you parents out there, you will identify most with Beth Latimer (Jodie Whittaker), Danny's mom, who knows something is up when, as the day goes on, her son is nowhere to be found. Watching her run through the traffic towards the beach where his body lies under a blanket will break your heart, and once she arrives, and recognizes his shoes, her reaction will rip what's left of your heart right out.
The two investigators handling the case are equally fascinating. DC Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) is back from leave to find out the job she thought was hers has been given to DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant), whose newness to Broadchurch, Dorset, seems to rub everyone the wrong way. But mostly Ellie, though. They're like water and wine. She is a normally chipper, friendly gal; he's grizzled and stern, trying to get over a past investigation of which he was "completely exonerated." But when he first arrives on the scene and sees the body on the beach, his reaction is fascinating. "Oh, God, don't do this to me." He needs to gather himself, urge himself forward, but then as soon as Ellie arrives, recognizing Danny immediately, he's back to being all-business.
Broadchurch will keep viewers gripped and wanting more, despite its bleakness. Once word gets out of the boy's death, residents begin to wonder if they should be concerned for their kids. Understandable. But as a viewer who just wants to know more about Danny and why and how he died, I just wanted them to shut their selfish mouths. I wanted to punch the dude outside the hospital asking Mark -- who was there to identify his son's body -- to sign his petition. Irrational, yes, but so annoying.
In the first two episodes, everyone seems to be a suspect, or know something, or be involved somehow, from Danny's best friend, Tom (Adam Wilson), who also happens to be Ellie's son; to Mark, whose whereabouts the night Danny went missing is still a mystery; to Jack Marshall (David Bradley), the town's newsagent and Danny's paper-route boss; to the creepy woman (Pauline Quirke) who lives in a trailer on the cliff and is seen a number of times smoking her cigarettes, walking her dog and looking generally scary -- and clearly knowing something.
Broadchurch doesn't just delve into the crime as we see the Latimer family fall apart. Mark and Beth begin the blame game while their daughter, Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont), begins to distance herself, while Beth's mom, Liz (Susan Brown), tries to keep everyone together. The most bizarre thing, though? The clocks at the family's home all stopped the morning Danny went missing. Danny's doing or simply a coincidence?
It's gripping stuff, Broadchurch, from the whodunit aspect to the family grief everyone can relate to. If Downton Abbey is anything like this, I may have to rethink my stance on it because Broadchurch has me completely riveted. Since I already have my own suspicions, I can't wait for the secrets to unravel over the next four weeks, just to see if I'm on the right track.
'Broadchurch' premieres Sunday Aug. 4 at 10 p.m. ET and Episode 2 airs Monday, Aug. 5 at 10 p.m. ET on Showcase. New episodes will air Sundays and Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on Showcase for the entire month of August. In the U.S., 'Broadchurch' is set to premiere on Aug. 7 at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT on BBC America.
Original UK Series: "Till Death Us Do Part" The show that introduced the world to "lovable bigot" Archie Bunker, "All in the Family" was the first series to spend five consecutive years on top of the Nielsen ratings. Produced by Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin (who also adapted "Sanford and Son" from its UK predecessor) the sitcom was notable for its decision to tackle social issues that other network comedies of the time had never touched, such as homosexuality, racism, rape, abortion, breast cancer and the Vietnam war.
Original UK Series: "Steptoe and Son" This iconic NBC sitcom, which aired from 1972 until 1977, was one of the highest rated shows of its time, peaking at number 2 in the ratings behind only "All in the Family." It is considered groundbreaking for its portrayal of race, and is thought to have paved the way for "The Cosby Show" and other sitcoms centered around African American families. (Although the British original was groundbreaking in different ways, notably for its elements of social realism, it featured Caucasian leads.)
Original UK Series: "Dragon's Den" A hit in both the UK and Canada, "Dragon's Den" embodies all the elements of a hit reality show: Judges with attitude, random wackiness, and average Joes who either make money or fools of themselves. "Shark Tank" works because it didn't meddle with the winning formula -- it's harsh, cruel and blunt; it even uses two of the same "Sharks" that appear on the Canadian version.
Original UK Series: "Hell's Kitchen" The thread that ties these two together is Gordon Ramsay. Without his acerbic, curse-laden diatribes, this show would not work on either continent. There's something almost cathartic about watching "Hell's Kitchen," which might be why it works so well -- you instantly feel better about your own cooking, and you can release a bit of anger every time Ramsay yells at one of the contestants.
Original UK Series: "Shameless" Showtime's American adaptation of "Shameless" has worked for a few reasons. Most importantly, its central story of a dysfunctional family struggling to make ends meet resonated with audiences during the recession. The show also hit home runs with its casting: William H. Macy plays a great drunk, and Emmy Rossum has emerged as the show's tough, sexy breakout star.
Original UK Series: "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" There are a two very simple reasons "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" took off in the US. Number one: Every single American TV viewer would like to be a millionaire. Number two: Regis Philbin and his monochromatic shirt/tie combinations were awesome.
Original UK Series: "The Office" Ricky Gervais' British sitcom "The Office" premiered in 2001 and followed the employees of the fictional Wernham Hogg Paper Company. Though it only lasted two seasons in the UK, it lives on in the US. The American version starred Steve Carell and made him a highly-coveted film actor, and did the same for John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer and more of its stars. Now going into its ninth season, the dry humor and mockumentary-style series about the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company employees set the tone for many more comedies to come (i.e. "Modern Family").
Original UK Series: "What Not to Wear" The BAFTA-nominated original UK series "What Not To Wear" had Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine makeover some of the UK's most awfully dressed Brits for five seasons (before they left and Lisa Butcher and Mica Paris took over for the show's sixth and seventh seasons). Though the US installment of "What Not to Wear" premiered shortly thereafter with a bit of a rough start with Wayne Scot Lukas, the American version found its footing in Season 2. The dynamic between Stacy London and Clinton Kelly has helped the show last for nine seasons and counting.
Original UK Series: "Queer as Folk" The UK's original "Queer as Folk" made its debut in 1999 and broke gay stereotypes throughout its two seasons, as did the US remake. "Queer as Folk" premiered on Showtime stateside in 2000 and made a splash as the first hour-long drama on American television to portray the lives of gay men and women. The series covered homophobia, late-in-life gay characters, coming out, gay adoption, HIV and many more taboo subjects. "Queer as Folk" broke down cultural barriers, paving the way for series like "The L Word" to make their debut and for acceptance of the gay community at large.
Original UK Series: "Man About The House" The UK original lasted six seasons in the early-to-mid-'70s, but the US version produced more than four times as many episodes (172 in total) over its eight seasons on the air, mainly due to a hilarious cast led by the late John Ritter.
Original UK Series: "Strictly Come Dancing" Before there was Pam Anderson, Drew Lachey and Bristol Palin (just three of the U.S. version's "All Stars" for Season 15), there was the UK's "Strictly Come Dancing," which premiered in 2004 and immediately spawned international spin-offs in 32 other countries and counting.
Original UK Series: "Pop Idol" "American Idol" is a ratings juggernaut, and it's not showing many signs of slowing down. With a revolving panel of music icons as celebrity judges and a fanbase that not only votes each week for their favorite singers, but buys their music and follows the contestants on tour, this is the reality competition to beat in the ratings.
Original UK Series: "Changing Rooms" It's not easy to find designers who are personable, talented and able to deal with the demands of a microbudget, time-crunched renovation, but both of these shows managed to do that, which is why they were both long-running hits in their respective countries. On both shows, viewers got crash courses in how to remake a room for very little dough, and even if we ultimately preferred the mildly acerbic British designers, both shows were the best kind of how-to program: They made you actually think you might be able to accomplish something similar (if you got off your couch, that is).
Original UK series: "Prime Suspect" We know, we know, the Helen Mirren original is a classic character-driven cop drama and the NBC show never quite rose to the heights that the UK series did. Having said that, NBC's version of the cop show evolved into an enjoyably meaty, well-acted ensemble drama that made great use of its versatile, talented cast and a committed performance from star Maria Bello. We were all ready to doubt the US version of the show, but her Jane Timoney made believers of us during "Prime Suspect's" brief run on the Peacock network.
Original UK Series: "The Inbetweeners" Though time will tell if the MTV adaptation will be able to rival the cult appeal of the original, the first three episodes of the new comedy prove just as charming as the British show, albeit in distinctly American ways. British humor may be dry and acerbic, but the new cast has undeniable chemistry and comic timing, and it will be interesting to see where the show goes when it starts utilizing its original material, rather than the six episodes it based on the UK series.
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