How low do you want to go? Watching shows like “The Killing,” “Rectify” and “Broadchurch,” I can’t help but ponder why we want to wallow in such darkness. It’s not as if real life isn’t full enough with murder, death and miscarried justice, yet crime dramas and procedurals are consistently at the top of both the audience (Nielsen) and critics’ best of lists. Unlike surrealistic offshoots “American Horror Story” and “Hannibal,” or the dark, character driven “Breaking Bad” and “Sons of Anarchy”—both of which are just enough steps away from reality to keep us at a distance—“Broadchurch” hits much closer to home. It’s no spoiler to say, as dead parents/orphaned kids are to so many children’s books, so are murdered children to these series: The Worst of the Worst Things That Can Happen. But unlike those books where losing one’s parents are the key to kids learning how to be independent and strong, when a child dies, everyone falls apart. And how many times do we want to see that? “Broadchurch” is full of beauty and good actors, and there are moments that would make even the stoniest of hearts break into tiny little pieces, but it’s somewhat formulaic and the mystery drags on a couple episodes longer than it should. The story opens with an eleven year old child standing at the edge of an oceanside cliff, blood dripping from a hand. The same boy is soon discovered dead on a beach, and a pair of cops—one local (Olivia Coleman) and one outsider (David Tennant)—work their way through town looking for his killer. Chris Chibnall’s (“Camelot, Torchwood, Law & Order: UK”) writing is smart and affecting, he imparts subtle clues to illustrate different sides to each character, giving the audience effective pause over any suspect. Unfortunately, and like “The Killing,” misdirection and red herrings are plentiful—by the time you reach the final episode (unlike “The Killing,” the perpetrator is actually revealed), you may be fed up. However, the last of the eight hours is indeed a great one, an emotional cleansing that could prove useful if you have a need to purge yourself of every last feeling; one of the actors in particular delivers a performance so excellent, my physical reaction nearly mirrored his or hers. You won’t necessarily be exceptionally surprised by the reveal but you will be destroyed—then sit wondering why you put yourself through it. In the end, it’s the same reason you went in; David Tennant and Olivia Coleman, surrounded by a bevy of acting talent.
David Tennant (“Doctor Who, The Politician’s Husband, Spies of Warsaw”) as Detective Inspector Alec Hardy
Lead detective, brought in to head up the investigation immediately following a scandalous murder trial. Trying to hide a major health ailment and initially at odds with Ellie Miller (over whom he was chosen as lead). Tennant is scruffy and pained, panicked and perplexed, in other words, glorious to watch.
Olivia Coleman (Hot Fuzz, Hyde Park on Hudson, The Iron Lady) as Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller
Detective Miller has lived in Broadchurch her whole life, is married with two children and knows the victim’s family; her son was best friends with Danny Latimer. Coleman is simply brilliant as this mother, detective and friend, caught in the middle of her two worlds and trying to separate her feelings as she wades through her fellow residents in search of a murderer.
Jodie Whittaker (Attack the Block, One Day, “Marchlands”) as Beth Latimer
Danny and Chloe’s mother, Mark’s wife; she discovers her husband has a secret, and holds her own.
Andrew Buchan (“Garrow’s Law, Cranford,” Nowhere Boy) as Mark Latimer
Danny and Chloe’s father; he may have a problem with his alibi…and his wife’s trust.
Matthew Gravelle (“The Bible, Baker Boys, Torchwood”) as Joe Miller
Ellie’s husband and stay-at-home father to Tom and Fred, concerned about—yet protective of—his son’s strange behavior.
Adam Wilson (“Mr. Selfridge”) as Tom Miller
Formerly Danny’s best friend, and definitely hiding something.
Arthur Darvill (“Doctor Who, The White Queen, Little Dorrit”) as Reverend Paul Coates
Resident vicar and computer tutor to Danny and Tom, former alcoholic and considered a possible suspect by police.
David Bradley (“Game of Thrones, Prisoners Wives, Doctor Who,” At World’s End, Hot Fuzz, Harry Potter…) as
Walder Frey Jack Marshall
Newspaper shop owner where Danny worked, Jack Marshall harbors the worst kind of secret.
Joe Sims (“Casualty, Red & White,” The Color of Magic) as Nige Carter
Best friend of, and works with Mark Latimer. Has some sort of strange connection to Susan Wright.
Pauline Quirke (“Emmerdale, Missing, Skins, Cold Blood,” David Copperfield, The Elephant Man) as Susan Wright
Oddly behaved resident who may have seen something the night of Danny’s murder, but remains quiet.
Will Mellor (“In with the Flynns, White Van Man,” Hollyoaks) as Steve Connelley
Handyman and telephone engineer who claims to have psychic abilities. Says victim Danny contacted and told him the boy was put in a boat.
Caroline Pickles (“Doctors, Land Girls,” Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) as Maggie Radcliffe and Jonathan Bailey (“Groove High, Leonardo, Me and Mrs. Jones”) as Olly Stevens
Town journalists; Oily Stevens is also Ellie’s nephew and all around asshole who uses his aunt to get information and further his career.
Oskar McNamara (Anna Karenina) as Danny Latimer
Also starring Vicky McClure, Tracey Childs, Susan Brown, Simon Rouse, Tanya Franks, Simone McAullay and Jacob Anderson, “Broadchurch” aired in the UK March through April and is available on Blu-ray; BBC America will run the series starting August 7, 2013.