Gracepoint Series Premiere Recap: Anna, Get Your Gunn

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Photo: FOX
Gracepoint
Show
Gracepoint
Episode Title
Episode 1
Season
1
Episode
1
Editor’s Rating
4/5

It’s a curious thing, the television remake. Before watching the first episode of Gracepoint, I assumed it was, like most U.K.-to-U.S. TV endeavors, “based on” its source material, the 2012 British miniseries Broadchurch. The latter was a popular, moody potboiler centering on a small-town murder in the titular picturesque yet vaguely ominous seaside village. In watching the first episode of Gracepoint, it’s clear that this is a remake, in the strictest sense. It’s near-identical, in fact.

This is a dicey proposition, to say the least. Not only must Fox’s version — also a miniseries, also written by the same writer/creator, and also starring Doctor Who’s David Tennant in the same role, only here, he sports a flattened West Coast American accent — live up to its promise in the loaded category of ponderous, self-contained, “small town with big secrets” procedurals (see also: Sundance TV’s great, still underrated Top of the Lake), but it must also live up to its parent, an acclaimed series that many of us have already seen, if we like British mysteries (check) and miss watching Tenant’s turn at the TARDIS (double check).

So it’s with considerable hand-wringing that will I try to do the impossible with this recap: watch Gracepoint while objectively ignoring Broadchurch. This is not made any easier by the first episode’s many, many, many, many parallels — including elements of plot, many character names, certain characters’ faces (Tenant’s aside, there’s some look-alike casting here that’s hard to ignore), shot composition, and lines of dialogue.

However! This is also a unique recap opportunity. How many straight-ahead TV remakes with a shared actor does one get the chance to examine, side by side? (Actual question: How many other direct remakes of TV series like this have there been? I truly can't think of another. You?) So, for the sake of deference to the fresh eyes in the house, I propose a deal: I will keep my comparisons to the end of these recaps. Everything above the fold will attempt to keep Broadchurch at bay.

The first of ten episodes finds us in a quiet seaside spot in Northern California dubbed “America’s last hometown.” The body of a local 12-year-old boy, Danny Solano, is found on the beach. Newly arrived Senior Detective Emmett Carver (Tennant) and his underling, local Ellie Miller (a frequently teary Anna Gunn), are set on the case. Cue the partner tension: Carver is from — shudder — the city (“Sorry to hear that,” says an old crusty fisherman archetype with Nick Nolte’s face) and has some professional demons linked to a place called Rosemont, while Miller thought she was a shoo-in for Carver’s job before she left for a vacation with her husband and young sons. Not to mention that Carver’s made of stone and Miller can’t help but feel the feels: It’s her first murder case, and the victim is her eldest son’s best friend. 

Before we learn of the murder, we’re treated to a long, continuous shot introducing us to the townspeople from the POV of Danny’s father, Mark (Michael Pena; chip on his shoulder). Later, when we know Danny’s dead, that shot retroactively morphs into a suspect lineup. But whodunnit? The creepy priest? The cheery British inn-owner? The unemotional father? Nick “Sea Captain from The Simpsons” Nolte? Creepy lady standing nearby, smoking, with dog? Someone else entirely? Time will tell, but in the meantime, the Solano family is stuck coping with a town’s full of bad feelings and a rabid journalist who wants nothing more than to stop covering boring local events — and who just happens to be Ellie’s nephew. He, in turn, has to look out for a ruthless beat reporter from San Francisco who may or may not be trying to scoop him. For her part, Beth Solano is barely clinging to reality (Virginia Cull, a.k.a. Warren Harding’s mistress in Boardwalk Empire, her delicate features lending Beth a porcelain fragility — she’s always on the verge of cracking open). And meanwhile, Ellie’s son grieves for his lost friend by erasing all of their text messages and his computer’s hard drive to boot. 

Like Broadchurch’s intro episode, this first outing fluidly sets up the world we’ll spend the next few months in — a treacherous fishbowl disguised as a pleasant small town and walled in by ominous cliffs, an unfeeling sea, and everyone the Solanos know and love suddenly turned into possible enemies. Not to mention our pair of ill-matched detectives (side note: I hope Ellie stops crying so much. C’mon, Miller, you’re a detective. Maybe you shouldn’t have gone on vacation in the middle of being up for a promotion, hmm?)

At any rate, if this thing can hold its own against its predecessor, being patient in its reveals and peeling back tiny bits of the town’s underbelly one small sin at a time, then perhaps we’re in business here. Or perhaps we’re just in for a retread. All the pins are set. Let’s see how they get knocked down.

The People vs. Gracepoint vs. Broadchurch (Warning: Potential spoilers ahead, or at least spoiler-y questions/observations)

  • The shots of the churning, dark water and Danny’s blood-dripping hand were so instantly recognizable from Broadchurch that I got chills. The good kind? I’m not sure yet.
  • This series has ten episodes to Broadchurch’s eight. What might this mean for plot points in the episodes going forward?
  • The Gracepoint Journal’s motto is “celebrating the everyday” — an allusion to one of Owen’s sarcastic lines about the newsworthiness of the Broadchurch Echo.
  • There is way more people-staring-at-each-other-sadly happening here. Brits prefer to look inward with their sadness, it seems. America!
  • Ellie had to call businesses for security footage of Danny; in the U.K., CCTV cameras mean surveillance is everywhere. America!
  • In this series, Ellie Miller has returned from a two-week vacation; in Broadchurch, it was a year’s maternity leave afforded her by the U.K. health-care system. America!
  • NB: Emmett’s exclamation as he approaches Danny’s body (“Don’t do this to me”) versus his character Alec Hardy’s stoicism through much of Broadchurch. Ditto his “You wanna do this now?” off Ellie’s “You took my job” line. And he verges on Pacino-style screaming sometimes, too. Will this brooding detective be more balls-out than his earlier Scottish iteration? Is this just an American procedural affectation, or a character choice on the part of writer Chris Chibnall? Tennant’s doing? Discuss.
  • Similarly, there’s way more stereotypical cop talk here than the British version (“I was fully exonerated!” “I came here to do a job!”) Not surprising — Stiff Upper Lip and all — but I do wish Gracepoint was a little less blatant about it.
  • Strangulation versus a blow to the head. America loves blunt-force trauma!
  • Creepy news stand owner Jack Marshall (David Bradley, a.k.a. Harry Potter’s Argus Filch, a.k.a. Game of Thrones’ Walder Frey) has here been replaced by creepy kayak salesman Jack Reinhold (Nick Nolte). America! 
  • The local paper and the San Francisco Globe are rivals instead of papers “in the same family” as the Broadchurch Echo and Daily Herald were. America!
  • That look that Ellie’s husband Joe (Josh Hamilton) gives both his son and Mark Solano when Mark mentions Danny’s lunchbox. Yeah, that look.
  • Olivia Colman’s Detective Miller > Anna Gunn’s Detective Miller. Colman blends world-weary femininity with hard-edged humor and plays warmly against Tennant. Gunn seems whiny and brittle right now, and so far shows little depth. But I’m pulling for her in future episodes.
  • Bonus ominous whale fin. Take that, coast of southern Britain!