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Was ‘Gracepoint’ Worth It?

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WARNING: If you intend to, but have not yet, watched the full first seasons of Broadchurch and Gracepoint, you’ll probably want to bookmark this column and come back after you’ve seen them. Major spoilers are contained within. You’ve been warned!

When FOX decided to remake the British series Broadchurch, starring the same lead actor no less, my first thought was, “Why?” The original is in English and was produced recently, a second season not even out yet. It’s also brilliant, a compelling, twisty drama with terrific acting and a gripping story. Now that all of Gracepoint has aired and a second season is a pipe dream, we are left with the question, was this project worth viewers’ time? Spoiler alert: my answer is no, definitely not.

The first thing that strikes me about Gracepoint‘s pilot is just how similar it is to Broadchurch. The producers deviated very minimally from the source material. The problem with that is, every time an element goes head-to-head in an obvious comparison, Broadchurch wins. Every single time. Why try to copy a successful series if you can’t do it better or offer a fresh viewpoint?

A large part of the inferiority stems from the cast. I’m not talking about David Tennant, who overcomes bad hair coloring and being forced to speak in an American accent to give us a performance that is essentially as good as when he played the role the first time. He’s a reliable, consistent, impressive actor. I’m also not talking about Anna Gunn. I love Olivia Colman and I wouldn’t say Gunn is better, but she’s as good and Gunn proves here that her Breaking Bad gig will be followed by a long, respectable career. Pretty much everyone else, though, especially the victim’s family, just do not stack up to the originals.

Had I not seen Broadchurch, I would likely have loved Gracepoint from the start. It’s a solidly-written story, and as I mentioned, the leads are terrific. The case has lots of mystery surrounding it, and it’s like an East Coast version of The Killing, a series I adore. Any cringe worthy moments in the early installments are purely colored by my memory of the first edition.

As the season unfolds, I do get drawn into Gracepoint. It doesn’t make many major changes, but it does have a couple of extra hours (being ten episodes instead of eight) to fill, so a bit of layering is added in. Around the mid-point, it starts to look like it may veer off entirely and be it’s own beast, and that gets me excited. I enthusiastically told a friend who was holding out to give it a chance. This experiment may end up being a good one to watch after all.

Then I arrive at this week’s season finale. From the start of the series, we had been promised a killer different than the one in Broadchurch. There is foreshadowing in earlier episodes that this will not be the case, but I assume the writers are being misleading, not truly setting up the reveal. Halfway through the finale, Gracepoint had returned to a nearly carbon-copy of Broadchurch and the same perpetrator is arrested.

After that, there is a big twist in that the person who is charged didn’t actually kill the boy. But he’s still guilty of criminal acts and deserves to rot in jail. I guess this is how Gracepoint gets around the “same killer” charge, but it feels like a technicality more than an actual change, just broadening the circumstances surrounding the death a little more, rather than making it drastically different.

I do believe that if Gracepoint were to get a second season, there is the possibility to overcome the comparison issue. The fact that Danny’s best friend accidentally does the deed, his child molester father is (nobly?) taking the blame, and his mother is covering up the true crime are all rich veins to tap. Danny’s mother’s partner clearly grows suspicious of the outcome at the end, threatening to put fixing his life on hold, though he definitely should not, to further pursue the case. But since the running time of the season is almost out at this point, there’s no time to really explore any of that, and Gracepoint ends on a semi-cliffhanger that will most likely never be resolved because the ratings are pretty bad.

Without this further exploration, most interestingly Ellie (Gunn) hiding things from Carver (Tennant), Gracepoint doesn’t have a lot to set it apart from Broadchurch. If the original had been subtitled, one may argue Americans are too lazy to read them. If the shows went completely separate ways in their second years, a case could be made that they really are different stories. If we lived in a pre-Internet age and Americans didn’t have easy access to the original version, it would be somewhat, flimsily arguable to make our own, homegrown, series. As it stands now, though, Gracepoint is an inferior copy of an easily obtainable show with very few significant differences. So what was the point?

No official word on Gracepoint‘s renewal has been released, but I’m pretty sure it’s not coming back, and it does not really deserve to do so.

Broadchurch season two premieres in February on BBC America. Please check it out.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome is the creator and writer of It's All Been Done Radio Hour, a modern scripted live comedy show and podcast in the style of old-timey radio serials, and the founder of the Columbus-based entertainment network, IABDPresents. He is also the Chief Television Critic for Seat42F.com and a long-time contributor for Blogcritics. Plus, he works fiction into his space time. Visit http://iabdpresents.com for more of his work.
  • Rivka

    The ‘first full seasons’? Writing on autopilot, Jerome. The ONLY ‘seasons’ of both!

  • melianthus

    Gracepoint is terrible in comparison to Broadchurch. I love David Tennant, but frankly I found him boring in this remake. In fact, what was compelling viewing in its original form became surprisingly uncompelling when made for an American television audience. They should just give it up and let us stick to Broadchurch.

    • Maggiemae

      Really agree with this. It’s like they took everything good in Broadchurch and just sucked the life out of it. David Tennant was just awful in this, frankly I think he just took on this role to try to get a foothold into the US and focused on this rather than trying to give us a different performance from Detective Hardy. I am sure he must now wish he hadn’t as this will reflect badly on him and he has been ridiculed in particular for his terrible American accent and clearly he now won’t be moving to LA any time in the future. Hoping Broadchurch 2 can wash away the taste of this very poor remake.

      • melianthus

        I thought that Tennant’s troubles with the American accent hindered his acting. He usually uses his Scottish inflections to great effect in his roles and he couldn’t do that in Gracepoint. I am definitely looking forward to the 2nd season of Broadchurch, though.

  • Ginger Crawford

    I think Gracepoint’s biggest problem is the shallowness of some of its
    viewers. They completely miss the foreshadowing and creepiness in the
    subtext. The “for some reason” that Tom is actually the killer runs far
    deeper than some viewers seem capable of grasping. Danny’s death is a
    tragedy already. But now, with Tom as the killer, we see there was more
    than one child that was a sacrificial lamb on the alter of Joe Miller’s
    sexual perversity and my mind ran back to when we we saw Joe ask Tom for
    a kiss and Joe calling Carver disturbed. Because this is how pedophiles
    justify themselves. We see Ellie Miller, once a good and upstanding
    woman, has now shifted to the position of actually entering into a
    contract of silence with her pedophile husband. However good her
    intentions as a mother, she has now become in part a bad guy. She does
    it because she knows Tom will be a pariah should the truth come out.
    This loyal, brave child tried to defend his friend and wound up killing
    him. But he is now tainted by his father’s pedophilia and Ellie knows
    it. It is they who will be in the cross-hairs of the court of public
    opinion and the vulture press instead of Carver. Deepening the tragedy
    even more, Ellie, a much stronger character than Broadchurch Ellie by
    all this, is now Carver’s adversary. she knows she will be when she
    doesn’t answer Carver’s call. Even more tragic, Carver has been betrayed
    yet again by a trusted partner and we see in his eyes that ravenous
    hunger for justice as he begins to walk. We KNOW he going after her, and
    he will die before he lets her go. Once they were partners. The
    potential was there for friendship. Now they are adversaries. The
    storytelling voice and subtext in Gracepoint is somewhat superior to
    that of its predecessor. Sadly most people lack the sophistication to
    grasp it because, you know, being Anglophile makes you smarter by
    default, right?

    • melianthus

      This was all discovered at the very end. Getting there was truly tedious.

      • Rivka

        It was tedious at times, esp the Vince and his mom stuff, but Ellie’s complicity in not revealing that fact that Tom was at the murder scene AND accidentally caused Danny to fall on that rock was compelling viewing. The surprise at the end of Carver re-viewing that vid on his phone AND getting what it meant was good storytelling.

        • Maggiemae

          I think if Fox hadn’t tried to milk this so much, this could have been passable but they just stretched everything out and I got the feeling that the cast really coasted in the middle episodes in particular. I thought David and Anna were clearly disinterested in what they were doing for most of the 10 episodes, but at least Anna started to give a performance over the last 2 episodes, sadly David just kept phoning it in for all 10 episodes – maybe too busy counting his money!

    • Rivka

      Ginger, why are you discounting the discernment of viewers? On what data do you base your claim that ‘most people lack the sophistication’ to grasp such things as a very simple television plot, lacking in character development? ‘Shallowness’? Really?? We aren’t all under-read dullards, even though I’m sure we would have a hard time keeping up with your keen observations and insights. We got the subtleties of ‘Gracepoint’. Some of us have even lived in the UK and other countries, and speak several languages, and teach the classics and fine literature. Imagine that!

      If ‘Gracepoint’ was your idea of an incredibly intriguing story with many interwoven subtleties and nuances, you’re wrong, but your comment was a fair attempt at well written critique. I’m sure some who read it were impressed. That superior attitude of yours needs taking down a peg or two, or you will flounder in life at best and won’t have success in the things that matter most, like communication, friendships, career, etc! I’m shaking my head. I hope you are very young and full of yourself, as there would be hope of you outgrowing this kind of sanctimonious patter. Your brand of thought is intolerable and repugnant in anyone, but especially in someone with some years under their belt.

      To put it another way, ‘Ewwwww!’