The best stories tend to convey universal truths with, presumably, a universal appeal. But I'm still having trouble with Fox's not-quite-new mystery drama that I keep calling Gracechurch — an inadvertent mash-up of its actual title (Gracepoint) and that of the superb British series it so slavishly copies: Broadchurch, a BBC America import that was No. 3 on my Top 10 list of 2013. (Here's my initial review of the original.)
The 10-episode, Americanized Gracepoint (Thursday, 9/8c) presents one of the season's more intriguing critical dilemmas. Maybe it's just too soon for me to be able to be entirely objective about a virtual carbon copy of a show that I hold in such high regard, while acknowledging that a relatively small U.S. audience saw Broadchurch. Realizing that my pleas for viewers to seek out the original will only go so far, I'll say that after watching the first seven episodes of Gracepoint, it's worth a look. If it's your first look. Otherwise, perhaps not. It takes many episodes for the plot ever to diverge, and for the most part, any changes aren't for the better. (And that's especially true for most of the casting.)
The premise is, as ever, gripping: an emotionally wrenching account of a small coastal community shattered by the murder of a young boy, and the investigation that turns neighbors against each other in a media-fueled witch hunt. Virginia Kull, as the victim's grieving mother, often captures the fevered intensity that made Broadchurch so memorably harrowing. But David Tennant, reprising his role as an abrasive outsider taking over the case, attempts to hide his native Scottish accent to ill effect, and Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn as his frustrated partner lacks the warmth Olivia Colman brought to the character in the U.K. As two of the more eccentric town suspects, Nick Nolte and Jacki Weaver overact so furiously, they verge on parody.
And while Gracepoint promises a different ending, it will be tough to top Broadchurch's devastating denouement. My impulse is to say, "Why bother?" although I am a bit curious to learn who did it this time. But still: Why did they bother?
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JUDGMENT CALLS: Premiere week was mostly great. This second week of premieres, which has often felt like a slow death march of rotten comedy, hasn't been nearly as fun.
I almost hate myself for being so indifferent to NBC's new entry in the rom-com bland-wagon, A to Z (9:30/8:30c), because I'd really like to root for actors as adorable as Ben Feldman (the guardian angel on Drop Dead Diva before he sliced off his nipple in a shark-jumping moment on Mad Men) and especially Cristin Milioti, so ill-used in the final season of How I Met (and Killed) Your Mother. If anyone deserves a happily-ever-ending, it's her. She also deserves a more inspired series than this innocuous yet cloying exercise in precious meet-cute clichés. Andrew (Feldman) is a romanticist at heart who works for an online dating company. Zelda (Milioti) is a lawyer who insists she's "not really into the dating thing at all," and initially resists Andrew's puppy-dog advances.
There's lots of talk about destiny, and Katey Sagal is inexplicably on hand as an omniscient voice-over narrator who tells us at the start that A and Z will date for eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour. (At which point we assume they either marry, break up or ... worse.) I'll refrain from speculating whether A to Z will even last that long, but if it doesn't, that intro will be among the reasons. Along with a dreadful supporting cast including an obnoxious sidekick for Andrew (Henry Zebrowski, part of a sad new trend of bearded boobs) and strident man-hungry BFF for Zelda (Lenora Crichlow). I still believe in love, but shows like these don't make it easy.
And yet A to Z is a glorious picnic of mirth compared to the bad idea that is NBC's Bad Judge (9/8c), a toxic concoction of smarm and schmaltz that urges Kate Walsh (so good earlier this year in Fargo) to mug and vamp shamelessly as a carefree municipal-court jurist who's a mess, a drunk and pretty much a bad girl under the robe. "Three times on your desk in one month?" smirks the handsome shrink (Veronica Mars' Ryan Hansen) she's nailing in her chambers. When her enabling clown of a bailiff (Tone Bell) busts in, there's barely a pause before they start swapping tired Cinemax porn-title jokes.
It's vaguely interesting to wonder what such appealing guys like Hansen and Chuck's Ryan McPartlin (as a hunky but dim-bulb firefighter in the second episode) see in this creepily exhibitionistic, slovenly loose cannon. I'm more in tune with her buzz-kill boss (Miguel Sandoval) who mutters, "It hurts my soul" when regarding the van she drives. But why stop there? Bad Judge is the sort of bad TV show that makes you despair of the future of comedy.
THE THURSDAY GUIDE: Fox's long-running Bones (8/7c) suffered a grievous loss to its crime-fighting family when the empathetic Sweets (John Francis Daley) was killed in last week's 10th-season opener, leaving behind a very pregnant Daisy (Carla Gallo) while helping expose a conspiracy within the FBI that harks back to the days of J. Edgar Hoover's blackmail files. As the team rallies to honor their fallen friend by getting to the root of the matter, a shaken Booth (David Boreanaz) is especially challenged to hold on to his faith in government, God and Bones (Emily Deschanel). ... The CW finally comes to life with new seasons of The Vampire Diaries (8/7c) and Reign (9/8c). But things get much more interesting the next few weeks, when The Flash premieres on Tuesday, and the delightful Jane the Virgin arrives the following Monday. Imagine, two of my favorite new shows of the season, on The CW, of all places. ... Newly retired Yankee icon Derek Jeter appears on NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (11:35/10:35c) with plenty to celebrate. But what game will Jimmy have the shortstop play?