Broadchurch, review: ‘unwatchable’

If the makers of this drama serial don’t know the difference between a barrister’s and a judge’s wig, it’s not worth our attention

24 January 2015

9:00 AM

24 January 2015

9:00 AM

Probably the two greatest advances in western culture in my lifetime have been the Sopranos-style epic serial drama and the advent of TV on demand and/or the DVD box set.

I don’t think I’m saying anything weird or contentious — or indeed original — here. For example, I’m writing these words at the end of a week with the Fawn in the Canaries, a holiday which I just know wouldn’t have been half as pleasurable if we hadn’t been able to retire to our room every evening after another hard day’s beach work to the solace of two more episodes of the Nordic miseryfest that is The Bridge.

And just before we left home we also caught up on a series I know I really ought, as a TV critic, to have raved about when it came out but didn’t because I’m crap that way: Broadchurch.

Broadchurch — series one, at least — really was as good as everyone says it was. That’s why, for the benefit of those of you who still haven’t seen it (as you totally must), I’m going to be careful in this review not to give away any plot spoilers. I know how annoying it would be if I did because that’s what someone did to me when I was out for a ride the other day.

We were sitting on our horses, outside the stables, making small talk as you do, while waiting for everyone to mount up. And I said, ‘God I’m loving Broadchurch. I’m just catching up with the first series.’ And the person to whom I addressed my remark said, ‘Oh yes. It was the BLANKETY BLANK who did it, wasn’t it?’

And I said, ‘Oh. My. God. You’ve just totally ruined the ending for me.’ Then I sulked for the whole of the rest of the ride, only vaguely to be cheered at the end when our riding teacher told me that I’d done amazingly well to have stayed on Freddy in the indoor school because normally he throws absolutely everyone.

Still, I was mightily peeved as you may imagine. One of the many glories of Broadchurch is that it keeps you guessing whodunit (it being the murder of an 11-year-old boy Danny in a pretty Dorset seaside town where everyone knows everyone, and nobody doesn’t have a dark secret) to the point where there’s not a single person you don’t strongly suspect at one point or another. And even then, when the perpetrator’s identity is revealed, it still comes as quite a shock.

So much for series one. The follow-up, unfortunately, is proving a bit of a dud. Though all the same ingredients are there — the cliffs, the pastel-coloured beach houses, Olafur Arnalds’s atmospheric score, the fantastically convoluted plotline, the relentlessly strained relationship between scabrous, unshaven, almost unintelligible Scottish detective inspector Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and his cake-left-out-in-the-rain sidekick Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) — the fatal difference this time is that it has given up respecting the viewer’s intelligence.

With the first series you swallowed the possibility, just about, that the entire population of Broadchurch was either the son/wife/husband/brother/cousin/victim of a paedophile/murderer/psycho because the acting was so good, the characters were so well drawn and the sense of place was so strong that it seemed to be grounded in a sort of reality.

Not with the new one, though (ITV, Mondays). There was a scene during the trial where Danny’s mum was asked a totally irrelevant question about her sex life by the aggressive lead defence barrister. ‘Do I have to answer this?’ she pleaded with the judge, Meera Syal. The judge insisted that she did, much to the chagrin of lead prosecutor Charlotte Rampling and the excitement of the jury (whom we haven’t yet met properly but almost certainly, the way the series’ casting is going, includes Lenny Henry, Gok Wan, Anita Dobson, Britt Ekland, Idris Elba, Madhur Jaffrey, the late Reg Varney…)

‘No, you bloody don’t!’ shouted every viewer in the land — even the ones who aren’t lawyers because we’ve all watched enough court procedural dramas by now to know what the deal is. Danny’s mum wouldn’t have needed to plead with the judge because the judge, had she been doing her job, wouldn’t have allowed it in the first place. And I know I’m right here because I read it in the Mail on Sunday, in an article called ‘Ten reasons Broadchurch has totally lost the plot’, with experts like Helena Kennedy QC piling in to say how they now find the series so riddled with basic errors as to be unwatchable.

Does it matter? I’m afraid it does. It matters in the same way it mattered when they put the wrong types of snake in the pit in Vikings. We viewers invest a lot of time and emotional energy in these series. The characters become like our close friends, their adventures a substitute for our own existence. If series two of Broadchurch wants to set itself up as a courtroom drama without going to the trouble of hiring a legal consultant capable of spotting details as fundamental as the difference between a barrister’s and a judge’s wig, it simply is not worthy of our attention and commitment.

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Show comments
  • Fraziel

    “Broadchurch — series one, at least — really was as good as everyone says it was”

    err, no it wasn’t. I am with you on Sops and the bridge and to that you can add the Swedish Wallander, Spiral, the Bridge 2, Breaking bad, The shield, Borgen and countless others but Broadchurch series 1 does nor deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. It was one of those shows that people watched because the papers told them they should. The Daily Mail , on one hand outraged at overt displays of emotion and sentiment by real people ,seems to love just that in tv shows and encouraged its readers to watch.

    I did and was bored stiff.

    Overly sentimental and mawkish ( just the way your sterotypical itv viewer likes it) , overlong ( 3 episodes would have been adequate), slow and frankly just incredibly dull average tv. It is beyond me how you can compare it to the shows you mentioned and its also beyond me why anyone didnt expect series 2 to be sh*te after seeing series 1.

  • The Red Bladder

    It’s alright for you lot – you can get away from this unspeakable drivel. Those of us who live in the seaside town where some of it was filmed have to put up with the constant turd polishing of the local press and those who are hoping that a sudden influx of gawpers who loved the series and want to see the locations for themselves will spend a small fortune in their establishments. Harbour Lights was bad enough, this ill-conceived pile of ordure would have been best left inside the horse.

  • Carrie Oakey

    David Starkey is on at 9.00 tonight. I’ll be watching him.

    • Gwangi

      Me too. A decent TV historian to watch again – unlike all the gimmicky goofy gurning bimbo academics the BBC seems to think we want to watch lecturing us with a very relativistic and ‘politically correct’ fake version of history.

  • Gwangi

    ‘has become’ unwatchable?
    Nope – it was unadulterated crud from the start, like most British TV drama.
    That’s why these days I stick to quality US drama or sometimes plunder the archive for decent dramas from the past.
    The only great British drama of the last 5 years is Peaky Blinders. The only decent drama in the decade or 2 before that was Life on Mars. Plus of course the Poirots with David Suchet and Foyle’s War (easy drama).
    The rest is 4th rate emotional pawn made for an easy meat female audience. Gets the ratings, by being lazy and predictable, and getting older women to watch, which is all they care about.

    • Kennybhoy

      Have you no’ seen BBC2’s “Line of Duty”, particularly series 2, and BBC1’s “Happy Valley”?

      • Gwangi

        Both utter tripe. Haven’t got the patience to watch such slow-moving pc drivel either. Police o dramas do not interest me really.
        I have to say Endeavour was good though.

  • Aberrant_Apostrophe

    We record it and fast-forward through the angst-filled scenes. Takes about ten minutes to watch the remaining key moments.

  • Tox66

    Serves you right for watching anything with Tennant in it.

  • trace9

    Some things one should not touch
    One’s Father’s Life
    One’s Mother’s Love
    Lest they move too much..

    So just watch tv instead – but not that saft guff.

  • I’m here in the US, and I streamed it on Netflix. I rather enjoyed it along with Happy Valley. Better than most of what we have on US television. We only have about 3-5 watchable mystery/crime shows. How much reality TV does one person really need?

  • Tom Miller

    I just finished watching the first series of Broadchurch literally 20 minutes ago (I live abroad and am catching up). In the last month I also watched the whole of the The Killing and The Bridge, which were both excellent. But Broadchurch? What pure, unadulterated crap! Truly spectacularly awful. I cannot fathom why anyone with half a brain would enjoy this tosh. Not a single plausible character (except for the newsagent) and peopled by idiot provincials with stupid accents. Has everyone in Blighty lost their brains?

  • Tom Miller

    The Missing, on the other hand–truly brilliant stuff! The Fall was good, too. But we’re still a long way behind the Yanks.