**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.