When Fox announced “Gracepoint,” a remake of the critically-acclaimed British mystery “Broadchurch,” viewers wondered what direction it would go. Even though it’s telling the same story, what it’s essential for it to stay away from being an exact duplicate by bringing its own American flair and independence. After finishing the pilot, I found that the show had a good start, but unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough. I kept on wishing more would happen that would help spark my commitment to watching it.
According to the plot, in the town of Gracepoint in Northern California, the Solanos wake up to another typical morning in a humble, crime-free town where people all know and greet each other. However, this seemingly perfect lifestyle comes crashing down when Beth Solano (Virginia Kull, “Boardwalk Empire”) realizes that her son is missing as the police have just found the body of young Danny Solano (Nikolas Filipovic) on the beach. Even worse, the forensics team has ruled foul play, classifying it as a homicide.
The contrast between the horrific crime and the outwardly tranquil atmosphere creates an uneasy, eerie feeling, and it is one of the most effective things that the pilot accomplishes. The thought of a lurking murderer creates unpredictable possibilities that can unnerve anyone, especially parents who fear for the safety of their children.
It seems that the show will explore how a murder will forever change the once-peaceful town. Once the clues start appearing, “Gracepoint” will become a totally unexpected and dangerous mystery. But upon closer examination, is the town as perfect as it seems, or is there a darker secret involved?
“Gracepoint” is also shaping up to be a “whodunnit” due to its large supporting cast. It suggests that a great shadow conspiracy has always been afoot and is about to unfold, contrary to the cheery appearance of the town and its people. As the father walks around town and the police are asking questions, the camera repeatedly concentrates on the same faces. This cast of characters will undoubtedly be suspects for the homicide, although it is a little disappointing that they revealed the group of suspects so early on.
However, this tactic does capture the audience’s attention, and it gives viewers something to ponder about. Especially effective among the people who may have played a part in the sinister plot is Danny’s friend Tom Miller (Jack Irvine). Immediately after being told about Danny’s death, he proceeds to delete all of Danny’s past text messages to him and the data on his computer, further investing the audience in the possibility of a conspiracy.
Speaking of characters, the main characters of the show are Detective Emmett Carver (David Tennant, “Doctor Who”) and Detective Ellie Miller (Anna Gunn, “Breaking Bad”). Tennant actually stars as the protagonist in “Broadchurch,” and it will be fascinating to see how his performance in “Gracepoint” will change and become its original creation. The most engaging thing about Carver is the fact that he has his own troubled personal history, causing a strain on his trust in Ellie, especially after Carver takes Ellie’s promotion.
Ellie is a person who seems determined to prove her worth, and because of her role as the best friend of Beth and the mother of Tom, her storyline will open up new possibilities. Because of the strong possibility of Tom being involved in the murder, Ellie may have to deal with the conflict between personal family values vs. the duty of being a law enforcer.
Another compelling element in these characters will be how they will complement and contradict each other in their partnership; Carver’s cynical, hardened misanthropy will undoubtedly clash with Ellie’s empathic heart. It is regrettable to note that overall, these characters are also surprisingly hard to connect with; Carver is portrayed as aggressive and arrogant while Ellie is too emotionally affected.
I recognize the fact that their characters will surely develop further on in this 10-episode season, but the problem I had with the detectives is the same problem with the overall pilot: too much is happening, causing the introduction to the story and the pacing to feel rushed. In addition, the characters are only recognizable for their roles in the plot rather than their actual distinguished characteristics.
Danny is killed in the very beginning of the pilot, but we never really see the family dynamics of the Solanos. We don’t recognize the part that Danny played in his family’s life and whether there is something deeper hidden. Even though we sympathize with the family over the death of their son, we don’t empathize as much since we don’t actually see who they are. In particular, when the parents grieve, they seem too disconnected with one another, so much so that I was confused whether they were spouses or siblings.
While the pilot does a great job setting up the future episodes, the build-up becomes a weakness for the characters, since we don’t see the chemistry and the mystery behind the community. The subplots offer tense moments, but because so much is shoved down the viewers’ throats, they don’t have time to breathe. As a result, the foreshadowing in the episode will be hard to keep track of and will struggle to retain the viewers’ interest.
This brings me back to my original observation: even though “Gracepoint” is a remake of “Broadchurch,” I am hoping that it will become its own genuine product. Not just a carbon copy, but one with a separate, imaginative ending and inspired mystery tropes. Viewers of this “whodunnit” mystery should be expecting red herrings, alibis and plot twists to keep them engrossed in the show. Whether the show’s producers will give them the danger to keep us entertained and curious is up for discussion.
It might be too early to judge “Gracepoint,” but with such a thrilling premise, I’ll certainly stick around for the answers to the mystery.
– By Jake Choi, Staff Writer