Broadchurch‘s second season premiere was an exhilarating jolt of an hour. It dropped us right back into the rattled headspace of a town that had seen a child murdered and then an everyman dad confess to the crime. Joe Miller (Matthew Gravelle) being packed off to prison was meant to be the start of the healing process. So when Joe stood up in court and said, “Not guilty,” it ripped every wound wide open. What it also did was blow up the premise of the show in a most welcome way. Now, instead of a murder mystery with ten episodes of red herrings and intrigue, the new Broadchurch would be a court procedural. Or so it seemed. Unfortunately, that first installment was to be the highlight of a season that degraded into a litany of contrivances that ranged from farfetched to just lazy as the show fell victim to the Hollywood sequel approach of “just add more.”
While the family of murdered Danny Latimer hired the retired Jocelyn Knight (Charlotte Rampling) to represent the case against Joe, Alec Hardy (David Tennant) roped Claire Miller (Olivia Colman) into the reinvestigation of the Sandbrook murder case. This previous murder and Alec’s inability to solve it hung over the first season, so it was at least a sensible plot thread to introduce, as opposed to inventing a new dead kid for them to avenge. But the Sandbrook case also added an arch element the show didn’t seem to know how to handle while the courtroom plot proved too thin to stand on its own.
The error made in the court story was to set up a grand showdown between two legendary lawyers (Knight and her former protégé, Sharon Bishop, played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and then completely fail to portray them as the powerhouses they’re purported to be. Basically, Bishop just makes up crazy accusations and Knight is constantly caught off guard. The fact that they’re named after chess pieces further highlights the shortfall between the show’s ambitions and its execution.
Meanwhile, the new, old murder case goes over the top, sometimes enjoyably so but in a way that is at odds with the show’s other half. Broadchurch ramps up the season one feeling that any number of people could be guilty by constantly making them behave in sinister ways. You could make a drinking game out of all the times James D’Arcy is seen standing off in the distance staring menacingly. But then the whole storyline gets topped off in a convoluted resolution wherein most of the people who seemed guilty turn out to actually be so.
Season two does have the selling point of its deep and solid cast. Even with movie stars like Rampling, Jean-Baptiste and D’Arcy, the standouts among the new additions are the great Eve Myles from Torchwood and Shaun Dooley, recently seen in The Game. Still, the best and most effective work is done by returning vets Colman, Tennant and Jodie Whittaker. Arthur Darvill, as the town’s priest, does his best with a character who becomes increasingly superfluous as the season progresses.
Broadchurch will be back for another season. Its pedigreed cast and its reputation as one of the most beautifully photographed shows on television will make it worth another shot. The first season may have had its detractors but it struck a compelling balance between its pulpy story elements and its raw empathy and sadness. That balance was off in season two. Here’s hoping it returns.