Who killed Danny Latimer?
In BBC America's shattering and brilliantly paced eight-episode Broadchurch (Wednesdays at 10/9c), a high point of a summer already teeming with terrific drama, you'll get a solution in a lot less time than it took The Killing to reveal the murderer of Rosie Larsen, and with considerably more cumulative emotional impact. (Although given The Killing's creative rebound this season, we'll stop with the unflattering comparisons.) I can't recall a mystery series moving me as frequently and profoundly as Broadchurch's masterful and sensitively rendered study of poisonous suspicion that infects an otherwise peaceful — and unlike The Killing (sorry), deceptively sunny British seaside village in the wake of an 11-year-old boy's baffling murder.
"I live here. We don't have these problems," insists lifelong resident and Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (a splendidly frazzled Olivia Colman) to her new boss and fractious partner, Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (David Tennant, reliably compelling). Theirs is a relationship built on mutual exasperation: She resents this brusque Scottish outsider for taking her long-overdue promotion, and he deplores her protective attitude toward the provincial Broadchurch, where he was sent to chill after a high-profile case went wrong, among other baggage.
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Their testy banter provides welcome comic relief, but Miller's extremely close connection to the community and to the case — her son was Danny's best friend (or so everyone thinks) — only intensifies the viewer's own empathy with the victim's distraught family and assorted other concerned townspeople, many with disquieting skeletons in their past that they came to non-violent Broadchurch to bury.
Even the vulture media are somewhat humanized in this story of imperfect people stewing in grief, guilt and fear, all subject to a witch-hunt mob mentality should the spotlight unpleasantly and inevitably turn on them. In Broadchurch, the closer we get to the truth, the more we dread it, our trepidations fulfilled by a devastating denouement. "Oh God, I don't want to know," mutters little Danny's mom as her ordeal of uncertainty nears its end. She needs to know, and so do we, but understanding is another matter.
"People are unknowable," D.I. Hardy concludes, pondering the greatest mystery of all: human nature.
The nature of TV is another matter, and all too predictable, as the buzz stirred by Broadchurch's initial broadcast in the U.K. (where it became known as the "most-tweeted" show of the year) has prompted the Fox network to announce an Americanized remake to air a season from now. Given the strength of the material, it's entirely possible that Fox will produce its own creditable version, but it's hard to imagine it equaling the power of this remarkable series, or bettering the performances of Colman and Tennant and the rest of the ensemble. For that matter, given how satisfying Broadchurch is in its entirety, I almost wish the British producers weren't going forward with a sequel. But they are, and whatever they come up with, there's no way I wouldn't watch.