Gracepoint: “Episode 1” Series Premiere Review

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FOX’s 10-part mystery event kicks off with some familiar beats, but manages to instill hope for potential originality.

On paper, Gracepoint sounds like a terrible idea. A small-town mystery ripped right from ITV’s Broadchurch, the show already has a lot to live up to. America is constantly borrowing television ideas from foreign sources—House of Cards, anyone?—but Broadchurch has already aired on BBC America, meaning many people are well-acquainted with the premise. Yet, the news that original series creator Chris Chibnall and original lead actor David Tennant would be returning for this version gave me hope. The pair provided such a compelling story the first time around; perhaps lightning can strike twice.

Unfortunately, the pilot of Gracepoint is a near shot-for-shot remake of the pilot of Broadchurch. We open on a pitch-black night, with a young boy standing over a cliff. He has blood dripping from his hands. Cue title card. Next, we’re given a look at the families and workers of Gracepoint as they begin their day. An extended panning shot follows Mark Solano (Michael Peña) as he greets his fellow townspeople. It’s one of those places where everyone knows each other.

For those who’ve never seen the British series, these opening sequences offer a lot of subtle tension. Cinematographer John Grillo does an excellent job on highlighting the town’s small details, so you’re constantly questioning everything’s importance. For those who have seen Broadchurch, however, we know exactly what’s coming next.

The pilot centers around the death of a young Danny Solano, the son of Mark and his wife Beth (Virginia Kull). Beth discovers Danny never went to school in the morning, and her confusion quickly escalates in to panic when she sees police on the beach. Soon two detectives are at their house, telling them they’ve identified the body of their son. One of the things the show smartly does is not only show the initial shock and misery of the situation, but the surreal aftermath, when everyone in the family is full of blank stares, unsure of what to do next. It sets a tone of authenticity that will hopefully define Gracepoint for the rest of the season.

The two detectives in question are Ellie Miller (Anna Gunn) and Emmett Carver (Tennant). Ellie is a sweet local cop who’s never had to deal with a situation of this gravity before. Carver, on the other hand, is gruff and seasoned. He’s come from a previous case in which something went awry, but he’s clearly not new to the scene. Watching him and Ellie butt heads is one of the episode’s highlights. Tennant reprises his role perfectly—except now with an American accent—making Emmett standoffish enough that you know he means business, but allowing a little bit of affection to shine through so you’re curious as to what makes him tick.

Gunn, meanwhile, is a total scene-stealer. I was initially nervous at the news that Olivia Coleman wouldn’t be coming over for the American version, but her replacement seems to filling the role quite nicely. Miles away from Breaking Bad‘s Skylar White, her Ellie is warm and optimistic, but also fiercely austere in the face of a real catastrophe. When Danny’s death is classified as a homicide, she panics, especially since the Solano’s are her family friends. Though she often spars with Emmett on how to best handle a situation, her determinism to both catch a killer and help her friends is inspiring. Coleman may have originated the role, but Gunn is already beginning to give it her own unique spin.

Small-town murder mysteries are nothing new, with shows like Twin PeaksThe Killing, and Top of the Lake  making their own distinct waves in the genre. Gracepoint has its work cut out for it. Not only does it have to somewhat separate itself from its foreign predecessor, but it has to prove it’s better than the competition on its own soil. Luckily, it’s already got a head start.

Chibnall has kept a crucial plot device intact, which is his masterful way of making everyone into a suspect. Right off the bat, we’re already concerned about where Mark was the night of Danny’s disappearance, why Danny’s sister Chloe (Madalyn Horcher) snuck off with a mysterious boy, why Ellie’s son Tom (Jack Irvine) deleted several text messages from Danny and then cleared out his hard drive, and who, exactly, the strange townspeople are that Jacki Weaver and Nick Notle play. It’s anybody’s guess as to who’s behind this whodunnit, but if the show progresses in the same direction Broadchurch did, then we’ll be wading into a sea of red herrings for a while before we find out.

There has been talk of an alternate ending for Gracepoint, which seems possible given its lengthened season—Broadchurch was only eight episodes—and new network. I certainly hope this is the case, because it would be exciting to see what else Chibnall is capable of if his show were to take a different turn. For now, though, I think I’ll enjoy the ride well enough. Gunn’s performance is captivating, and her chemistry with Tennant is very promising. The show has the potential to outshine its counterpart, but it also could end up being a bland recreation. If that happens to be true, then Gracepoint will be best viewed only by fresh eyes. Grade: B


By Mike Papirmeister

One Response to Gracepoint: “Episode 1” Series Premiere Review

  1. SherryAva says:

    I totally agree. The show was well done but a little hard to watch if you saw Broadchurch Maybe the network hopes to pick up new viewers?

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