Television review: Broadchurch

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, September 6th. Thank you for turning to The World and Everything in It  to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham.

REICHARD: Well, Megan, what are you reviewing for us this week?

BASHAM: Oh, it’s a good one! I think you’re going to really like this one. In this age of binge TV watching, it can be hard for Christian adults to find a quality series that delivers good storytelling and acting. When people ask me for recommendations, I routinely find myself mentioning season one of the British crime drama, Broadchurch

Like Downton Abbey, Broadchurch debuted to record-breaking ratings in the U.K. and went on to become a national phenomenon. Also like Downton, the show received lavish praise from U.S. critics. For good reason. Though their settings and plots are nothing alike, the shows share one similarity: complex, sharply written characters. 

CLIP: Calm down, DS Miller. You don’t understand, I know that boy! Shut it off, be professional. Shut it off? We’re working a case now. Alec Hardy. I know. You got my job. Really? You want to do that now? You don’t even know him. Tell me!

Though there isn’t a bad performance in the bunch, the leads are particularly impressive. Olivia Colman, best known for her Oscar-winning performance in last year’s movie, The Favourite, plays Detective Ellie Miller. Her cantankerous partner Alec Hardy is played by Dr. Who’s David Tennant. Together, they’re charged with finding the killer of an 11-year-old boy in a small, coastal town. As a local, Ellie can’t help her reluctance to believe any of her neighbors could be guilty of this heinous crime. As an outsider and jaded veteran, Alec can’t help feeling suspicious of everyone he meets, however innocent they might seem.

CLIP: Danny’s skateboard. Danny’s mobile. Priority. Also, main suspects. You know this town. Who’s most likely? 

Without question, their investigation delves into the darkest elements of fallen human nature. But it doesn’t dwell on lurid details. By the standards of trendy American dramas, Broadchurch’s content is mild, with the exception of profanity. Its first season features little violence and only one brief, non-explicit bedroom scene.

The show centers on the lives of some decidedly unsavory characters. But viewers are rarely subjected to depictions of their unsavory behavior. For example, one episode of the eight-part whodunit reveals that a married character is having an affair. But a kiss provides the only evidence we see.

Instead, Broadchurch invests its screen time on the consequences of the man’s actions. Confronted with his wife’s heartbreak and his daughter’s disrespect, he comes to see that what seemed like valid justifications for cheating were really the cheapest, most contemptible kind of selfishness.

Broadchurch is no less gripping for its reserve. Its constant focus on the fallout of sinful choices—rather than sin itself—makes it far more true-to-life than many “gritty” dramas praised for their realism. After all, the pain of sin usually lasts exponentially longer than the pleasure, though TV producers tend to show the inverse.

This isn’t to suggest that Broadchurch skimps on the details. The show operates as a sort of firsthand, behind-the-scenes look at the tabloid cases that dominate our news cycles. The devastated family. The journalists who sensationalize the crimes. The public who sit in stone-throwing judgment before all the facts are revealed. The show puts hearts and faces to an all too familiar spectacle. And it challenges us to reconsider how we view such stories.

CLIP: It’s like they stick to you. They won’t leave you alone, they’re so desperate for you to be grateful. And they haven’t got a clue about grief. Not real grief. Not like this is. I used to assume that grief was something inside that you could fight and vanquish but it’s not. It’s an external thing. Like a shadow, you can’t escape it, you just have to live with it. You just come to accept that it’s there. I kind of grew fond of it after awhile. Is that mad? Am I too bleak too quick? You’re like the first person I’ve meet to talk any sense. 

At times, the revelations Ellie and Alec turn up are painful—gut-wrenching even—to watch. But they also exemplify the increasingly mundane evil we encounter every day. And even on this front, Broadchurch excels. It doesn’t merely paint our common despair. It offers a glimpse of hope. A minor, silly subplot involving a psychic notwithstanding, Christian faith is treated with more than respect. It’s treated with seriousness. 

The fledgling town reverend, though a suspect like everyone else, is the person the grieving parents turn to for wisdom and comfort. Most shocking of all for mainstream entertainment, after some initial flailing, he actually manages to supply it.

CLIP: I watch this happen every time. A terrible event and the church piles in gleefully, because suddenly people are paying you attention. When the rest of the year you’re just that building nobody goes in. You have no concept of faith, do you? I didn’t muscle in. People turned to me. Do you know why? Do you know why they came to me? Because there was a fear that you couldn’t address. A gap that you couldn’t plug. Because all you have is suspicion and an urge to blame whoever is in closest proximity. Look, you can accuse me, you can take samples, belittle who I was in the past. But you do not get to belittle my faith just because you have none. 

FOX tried to remake Broadchurch for U.S. audiences in 2014. But its version, titled Gracepoint, missed the British version’s reflective insight. Unfortunately, two subsequent seasons of Broadchurch didn’t match the excellence of the first. But for those who can overlook the language and are willing to engage with distressing-but-truthful subject matter, season one is a highly bingeable, only slightly tarnished gem.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

Like this story?

To hear a lot more like it, subscribe to The World and Everything in It via iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, or Pocket Casts.







Pocket Casts

(Requires a fee)

3 comments on Television review: Broadchurch

  1. Pallab Gupta says:

    I love British TV shows, especially the detective ones because they don’t run around with guns, they actually think and as you rightly pointed out, the human element is very well portrayed. The same goes for many other European shows. Broadchurch is one of my favorites.
    Question – Broadchurch is not exactly new, so I was surprised that you ran a review after so many years. Why so?

  2. Sandra Mosolgo says:

    We enjoyed Broadchurch on Netflix as we don’t use cable & rely on Roku foe entertainment. We have since dropped Netflix in favor of Britbox. Two excellent shows are Shetland & Vera both based on novels by the same author.

  3. Abe Mazliach says:

    Broadchurch is a horrible show when an innocent man has to kill himself because of incompetent police. Is this England? I’ll never what another episode again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.