Since the new procedural Gracepoint, which premieres tonight on Fox, is a remake of the British series Broadchurch, by Chris Chibnall, and even shares the same star, David Tennant, I’m going to indulge for a moment in what one of the New York Times’ TV critics calls the “new sport” of comparing existing versions of shows (“new” in the sense that it’s been going on for a very long time — but whatevs). Bottom line: It’s hard to compare Broadchurch and Gracepoint in any detail, because they’re as close to the same shows as they can be and still have been made in different years by different people.
Each tells a version of the same tale: In a small seaside town, a teenage boy disappears and then is found dead, but his apparent suicide is not what it seems to be, and as cops look for evidence of foul play, the town’s sad and tawdry secrets are unearthed. Each version of the story unfolds at roughly the same pace and shares many of the same rhythmic and visual beats (including an early sequence that introduces many of the town’s main characters in a super-long, unbroken tracking shot through the main thoroughfare). The mismatched-cops-learn-to-respect-each-other relationship that held Broadchurch together is replicated here almost note-for-note, down to Detective Ellie Miller (Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn) getting back from a vacation, finding out that Tennant’s Detective Emmett Carver got a job she thought was earmarked for her, and assuming it was because of sexism. As the mother of the dead boy, Virginia Kull realizes the worst has happened in pretty much the same way as the mother in Broadchurch. It’s déjà vu all over again.
Bear in mind that Gracepoint is a good show — not great, but good. If you never saw Broadchurch, which was also quite effective without reinventing any wheels, and if you don’t mind the kind of slow-burn procedural storytelling practiced on the likes of Prime Suspect (the English version) and The Killing (both versions), you’ll probably like it. The acting, directing, cinematography, music, and scenery are consistently pleasing, sometimes excellent. There are marvelous little moments and supporting performances (including Nick Nolte as a fisherman who might as well be the Spirit of the Ocean).
I mention the carbon-copy storytelling because it strikes me as depressing in ways I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s not as though the original was in any way culturally foreign to American experience; you can watch it online easily — and it’s in English. I’ve been told that the stories will start to diverge a bit around episodes six or seven, for whatever that’s worth. Still, I wonder why anyone thought it necessary or even desirable to “remake” a series by slavishly replicating so much of it, without varying the story, the themes, the characters, the setting, or even key filmmaking choices in any noticeable way, and even going so far as to cast the same lead actor? Are the U.S. and its entertainment industry so culturally insecure that they need to put an imprint on everything, even if the imprint is so faint that audiences can barely discern it?