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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Was GRACEPOINT Worth It?

Article first published as Was 'Gracepoint' Worth It? on Blogcritics.

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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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