Sometimes the end should be the end. Some stories should remain concluded. There’s a reason why revenants are creepy, and TV land is full of evidence for this. No, I’m not talking about existential French horror – I’m talking about ITV’s Broadchurch, which came to its second end this week, though with a promise of more.
The first season of Broadchurch was nearly perfect in terms of what it was aiming for. Certainly the cast was one of the things going for it, but more than that it had a theme it committed to, and practically everything served that theme: the slow unravelling of a microcosm – a family, a community – due to a horrific deed. It’s not the most original of themes, granted, but Broadchurch handled it smartly and with honesty and the seriousness it called for. It stumbled towards the end, but it nevertheless ended up one of the most poignant British TV series in recent years, and definitely more consistently strong than the BBC’s uneven output in quite a while.
Obviously it was tempting to bring back that world, those characters and especially those actors for a second series. A large part of what made Broadchurch so enjoyable was the David Tennant/Olivia Colman team-up; who wouldn’t go giddy at the chance of watching them for another eight episodes? Except that way lies fan service, which rarely makes for compelling storytelling. Broadchurch went into its second season with a proven cast of characters and actors that were enjoyable to watch the first time round, and there were enough story strands to pick up – but obviously no driving idea, no theme, that would give the continuation the sense that this is a story that has something to say. In fact, series 2 never felt like they started with anything other than the decision to do a second series, much to its detriment. The whole thing reeked of desperation and last-minute panic, resulting in a story that felt made up from one week to the next on the basis of some shaky brainstorming. What if DI Hardy had one of the people involved in his previous, failed case hidden away in a cottage in Broadchurch? What if that Susan Wright woman comes back to wreak ineffectual revenge against her estranged son, repeating what we already had in the first series? What if we got Charlotte Rampling but had no idea how to use her in an interesting way, so let’s say her character goes blind, her mother dies and she’s a closeted lesbian?
One of the what-ifs had more potential: what if Joe Miller, the man who turned out to be the killer in the first series, pleaded “not guilty”? What would this do to the community and to the family left behind? What goes on in a man who is culpable but desperately wants himself to be proclaimed innocent of the crimes he’s committed? Instead, this was wasted as we didn’t get character-driven drama so much as badly written courtroom melodrama with characters that wished they had even a second dimension. And we spent so much time with the underwritten dramatis personae of Sandbrook, Hardy’s previous case and a whodunnit that it was difficult to care about. The murder that launched the first series was meaningful, because it was specific: the victim mattered, the murderer mattered, because it was all about bringing a community close to its breaking point. Sandbrook, on the other hand, happened far away and could have been any case, really. It was irrelevant to Broadchurch. There were attempts at connecting the two cases in terms of themes and motifs, but they were half-hearted and ineffectual to the point of being a nuisance rather than an asset.
The first series of Broadchurch still stands as graceful, moving TV, and a wasted second series doesn’t change that much. However, it doesn’t exactly fill me with happy anticipation to see, at the end of the final credits, the caption “Broadchurch will return”. Do they have a story worth telling? Or do they simply have a great cast in need of work and the hope that people will tune in on the strength of the original series? Do the makers of Broadchurch even have a clue what made the series work in the first place? I don’t think so, and no number of scenes with Tennant and Colman acting the hell out of a leaden script will make for a strong reason why Broadchurch needed to continue.
In fact, if a third series of Broadchurch is made and ends up as utterly superfluous as the second one, I’ll personally go and beat up the people responsible with my box sets of the fourth season of Deadwood and my 14-disk Complete Firefly.
You can find my previous comments on the second series of Broadchurch here.
Picture cracked me up! But yes, I agree with you, this second season seemed… cheap.
They decided to load it up with even more characters (did we really need more? Are they supposed to make up for the ones that couldn’t or did’t return for this second season?) and then totally neglected developing further those characters we already knew.
So Hardy, Miller and the Latimers had screen time, but their arcs were force-fed. Mark told Joe he should probably kill Tom, to make him understand what it feels like… And next season we see him neglecting his surviving family to secretly play videogames with Tom, and then discard him altogether? What, writers suddenly decided Mark was going too dark? And what about Joe and his lack of relevance in his own trial?
Ellie might be as good a DS as you want, but the wrapping up of the Sandbrook case not only didn’t really concern me much, but it also made me go “Yeah, right” more than once.
And what about Eve Myles? What was the point of her, I wonder? Create a series of convoluted lies that no one would believe to what, remind us that you cannot trust anyone? That made sense in season 1, here why would anyone even begin trusting her?
And did Ollie even have a reason to exist in this season? I know he’s meant to be the character you’d love to slap around, but honestly, this time they didn’t even try to give him a reason to even be involved in the whole proceedings… WTH?
I love them Broadchurch characters, but my time has been thoroughly wasted this season. Can only hope the next one will be better…
Thanks for your comment – always lovely to hear from you! 🙂 Yeah, Sandbrook was a big mess. It worked better as a bit of a MacGuffin in S1, driving Hardy’s actions, but it was badly mishandled in S2. The actors tried their hardest, but they couldn’t fight how much their story was basically bottom-of-the-barrel whodunnit, with little to no thematic resonance or relevance to the characters we care about – except Hardy, and even that felt artificial and hackneyed. Perhaps if they’d focused entirely on Sandbrook it could’ve been different, but I don’t think they ever had a driving idea that would make it work.
I basically agree with you on the characters; people like Ollie had a reason to be there, but it was the most shallow, literal reason: there’s a trial, so of course you’d have journalists. That’s a reason, but it’s not one that gives him a function in the story. The same was true for so many of the characters from Broadchurch – of course they’d be there, because it’s Broadchurch (both the place and the series), but you need motivation beyond that, and they never really had that. As you say about Joe, practically everyone was superfluous to the story.
The moments that worked best were the ones that basically weren’t about the story but about the characters and that were driven entirely by them (rather than by out-of-left-field decisions that weren’t credible, like Beth suddenly getting all riled up about the bloody letter Mark wrote, when we’d already had a stronger version of that story in S1). I loved the moment when Ellie lay down the law with Tom after he’d been snubbing her for months, but those moments were the handful of high points in a series that was often humdrum at best and downright silly, but boringly so, at worst.