[Warning! – SPOILERS for GRACEPOINT and BROADCHURCH – Proceed with caution.]
When it was announced that the hit British drama Broadchurch would be imported to America under the name Gracepoint, fans of the original series were livid. To say that American television networks have a mixed history in adapting British television series would be something of an understatement. This is particularly true in the case of Fox Broadcasting. Just ask any Whovian about Fox’s failed attempt to revive Doctor Who in 1996!
It is a funny thing then that for all the fears about The Americans fouling things up that very little was ultimately changed as Broadchurch became Gracepoint. Yes, David Tennant changed his accent and all of the profanity was removed to make the show fit for the broadcast standards of the FCC. Yes, there were some minor changes to various characters, with a newsstand owner becoming the man who ran the kayak rental shop.
In the end the story remained exactly the same. And that has proven to be Gracepoint‘s fatal weakness.
There was little reason for viewers who had already seen Broadchurch – either on DVD or through the cable channel BBC America – to watch Gracepoint even with the promise of a completely different ending. Not enough changed in the early episodes to make it worth their time to watch the same show again only for the promise of a different payout. And what little was changed or added into Gracepoint did little more than pad the episodes with additional red herrings.
A prime example of this is the subplot – unique to Gracepoint – where it is revealed that Rev. Paul Coates had, as a teenager, been romantically involved with Beth (the mother of the murdered Danny) and that he still seemed to harbor some feelings for her. Gracepoint also brought in an additional suspect in the form of a mentally disturbed hiker, who had been seen talking to Danny before his death. An entire episode was devoted towards Tom Miller – Danny’s best friend – running away and disappearing into the woods. Ultimately nothing came of any of these plot threads.
The real changes do not come until Gracepoint‘s final episode. Even then, those changes are limited to the last twenty minutes of the episode and do little to change the ultimate scope of the story. The real difference lies in the relationship between the two leads and how Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller compare to Emmett Carver and Ellie Miller.
Ironically, Gracepoint makes Emmett Carver into a more sympathetic figure while simultaneously allowing David Tennant to play the character as more iconoclastic and miserable than Alec Hardy. Carver is more openly disrespectful of Ellie Miller but is humanized by an addition to the series – Carver’s estranged 17-year-old daughter. The second of Gracepoint‘s additional episodes was devoted toward her paying Carver a visit and being pushed away as he becomes obsessed with salvaging his career and solving this one big case before his bad heart forces him to retire.
Conversely, as Gracepoint allows the David Tennant character to become more heroic, it also paints the other characters in a darker shade. This is particularly true of Ellie Miller who, in Gracepoint‘s conclusion, is ready to subvert justice for selfish, if understandable reasons. The additional material allows Anna Gunn the opportunity to expand upon Miller’s character, pushing it in the opposite direction of Tennant’s redemption-seeking Carver. The final episode ends with a Lady and The Tiger style ending that resolves nothing – a definite change from the more hopeful ending of Broadchurch which suggested that, in spite of everything, the town was ready to begin healing.
When Broadchurch made the motives of its killer clear, most of the cast seemed to accept the explanation as given – that a father unable to find common ground with his son might seek to build a similar relationship with a boy the same age whom he related to better. Here, nobody save Detective Carver seems to be capable of believing that there was nothing sexual about the killer’s feelings for Danny. Everyone else believes that even if the killer wasn’t a child molester, it was only a matter of time before it did happen and the scenes depicting Danny’s death suggest that to be the case compared to the more ambiguous way Broadchurch was filmed.
In the end, there is little reason to watch Gracepoint if you’ve already seen Broadchurch, unless you are a David Tennant fan or a drama student who wishes to study how a few small changes can completely change a performance or a production. Outside the realm of curiosity and scholarly analysis, Gracepoint is an enjoyable who-dun-it on its own terms and well worth the watching once. But only once.