Well, it’s only week two, and what continues to be creepiest about Gracepoint is not what’s happening in the series itself, but rather the déjà-vu effect of watching each episode play out in lockstep with its baby mama, Broadchurch (as before, my thoughts about direct comparisons between these two series will fall below the fold for those not familiar with both). The parallels are overtaking my brain, but my brain wants more from them. While watching this episode, I daydreamed a scene in which Emmett Carver called all his officers in, looked soberly at each, then slipped into his Scottish brogue and said, “My name is Alec Hardy. I came here to solve this crime because it’s eerily similar to one I worked in England. I am starting to believe I am dead and working the same murder case over and over again in a feedback loop of punishment that could only be purgatory. I am paying for my sins.”
And then he would regenerate and become Matt Smith.
Right?! If only! Instead, I am — and I suspect many other viewers out there are, too — stuck waiting for something in each episode, something other than minor cultural differences, to surprise us. In an interview with NPR, the show’s executive producer Carolyn Bernstein insisted that the repeat audience for the series was inconsequential, as those seeing Broadchurch on BBC America “represent less than one percent of the American television viewing population.” And while that’s probably factually accurate, she missed a hugely obvious point, the kind of point that a network TV executive would totally miss on purpose: Many, many other people likely watched Broadchurch in other ways. They downloaded it and streamed it. And many of these people are watching Gracepoint expressly to compare it.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, I imagine Bernstein and others at Fox are sitting back, relaxing in their overstuffed leather chairs right now, because this constant flow of “Why did they remake this thing?” media attention can only be upping the series’ profile. Maybe that was partly their motivation in the first place — the story of the show’s creation can sustain it even if the show itself can’t. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Speaking of thinking: my goodness. In this episode, the investigation deepens in manifold ways: The Solanos hand over a list of possible suspects (“These are all your friends,” gawps Miller), $500 is found tucked beneath Danny Solano’s mattress, and a baggie of coke is discovered in his sister’s room. The money remains mysterious for now, but the coke is traced back to inn owner Gemma Fisher, who asked Chloe to procure it for some hard-partying guests. Miller takes it easy on Fisher in questioning, a tactic which prompts Carver to ream her out — and for her to respond by telling him to keep his, “brooding, assaholic, big-city cop act” to himself. She then spits the word “Sir” as an afterthought. Ellie “No More Tears” Miller! Excellent. But I’d have an easier time appreciating this moment if I wasn’t stuck on the word assaholic. He’s addicted to ass? I mean, that seems like a compliment to me. Quick, some American tell Chris Chibnall that he probably meant asshole-y or asshole-ic. Or just asshole. Brits, I tell ya!
Meanwhile, our San Francisco reporter Renee Clemons is trying to embed at the local paper, only to find herself vag-blocked by the editor in chief, Kathy Eaton. In another mystifying dialogue moment, Eaton sidesteps Clemons’s ploy for a desk, shutting down her “we know the same editor guy” tactic by saying, “Yes, I know him. We were lovers, until I realized I didn’t like penises.” Yuck! TMI, Eaton. (But actually, anyone else think that Gemma inviting Kathy for a drink later had something more to it? Something sexy?)
Then there’s a potential psychic who says he “speaks to Danny” and sees something about a boat (and might also know something about Carver and Rosemont), there’s Beth’s grocery-store freak out and subsequent hatchback confession to our lame-duck priest, there’s his subsequent media play (side note: the priest has a Crispin Glover quality. Discuss), there’s Nick “Killer from I Know What You Did Last Summer” Nolte and his elusive backpacker, there’s Mark on the surveillance camera, there’s the creepy lady’s closet skateboard, there’s Danny’s journal entries, there’s some telling fingerprints, and there’s Carver’s mysterious blurry-eyed illness. Whew.
All in all, a loaded episode. One feels the sands shifting beneath the town’s feet, even as the players in this odd game of ocean-adjacent chess reposition themselves behind our backs. Admittedly, there are some deft and dense bits of storytelling here (the same as in episode two of Broadchurch, but still). We have some questions to answer now: Who’s on the Solanos’ list? Is the backpacker real? What’s the money about? What’s Mark hiding?
Final thoughts: I’m still not seeing chemistry between Gunn and Tennant, which was present in spades in the U.K. version. I worry about it. I wonder if it’s because Gunn’s not very funny — Olivia Colman, Miller in the U.K. version, is a well-known comedic actress who’s done turns with both Mitchell and Webb and Frost and Pegg, respectively — and that underlying humour (British spelling) and her sense of timing really seeped around Miller’s matronly edges. Gunn is too blandly attractive, too detached. The script and direction aren’t always helpful: There’s too much waiting for lines to land IMPORTANTLY instead of pushing past them into a natural, conversational style. It makes the acting seem stilted and stops us from warming up to our leads. And they had better start warming up to each other soon, or the momentum of the series will get too pinned down by their mutual surliness.
The People vs. Gracepoint vs. Broadchurch (Warning: Potential spoilers ahead, or at least spoiler-y questions/observations)
- Flipping back and forth between episodes, I’m increasingly impressed by Tennant’s acting choices. Emmett and Alec are, for all my joking, really quite different people. If nothing else, we can appreciate that.
- Danny’s journal is a new thing, right? We only got emails and texts in Broadchurch? And certainly not this early? Could this be meaningful? Methinks.
- This episode’s cop talk: “You’re not here to train me!” “I know what I’m doing!” And the aforementioned “assaholic” speech.
- The kind of creepy forest service cabin versus the beautiful beach house in Broadchurch. Very “Cabin in the Woods,” America.
- Danny laughing with a backpacker versus Danny arguing with a mailman. Very “maybe Danny’s just gay,” America.
- Tennant’s detective stabbing himself with a needle (insulin?) versus taking pills. Very “dramatic way to drug yourself,” America.
- Everyone was always jogging off their sadness and stress in the U.K. version. No one jogs here. Very “fattest country in the world,” America.
- Emmett rejects a burrito versus Alec rejects fish and chips. Very “what national staple food and its subsequent rejection can explain a character’s general disagreeableness?,” America.
- An entire RV park on a cliff versus one lonely lady’s trailer. Very “we find groups of weirdos creepier than lone weirdos,” America.
- Mark Solano is terrified and nonthreatening versus Mark Latimer was smug and hit Danny once. Very “different parenting styles,” America.
- Lost surveillance footage due to power outage versus rerecorded CCTV tape. Very “largely inconsequential script choice,” America.
- There was no whale tale in this episode, but there was a sailboat!