Broadchurch Wednesdays, 10 p.m., BBC America.
Between The Bridge, Top of the Lake and three seasons of The Killing, the idea of a single criminal investigation followed over the course of a TV series or season no longer seems particularly novel. So the British series Broadchurch, premiering in the U.S. on BBC America, isn’t being innovative by spending its eight episodes on the search for the person who killed an 11-year-old boy in the titular seaside small town. The success of a show like this depends more on the execution than the concept, and that’s where Broadchurch falls short. The mystery itself is sturdy enough, but the characters never feel like more than puzzle pieces being put into place to move the plot along.
Creator Chris Chibnall developed Law & Order: UK, and Broadchurch often comes off as a very drawn-out procedural, offering up a series of dead ends and red herrings as detectives Alec Hardy (Doctor Who’s David Tennant) and Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) run down the list of potential suspects for the murder. Whole episodes deal with tangents that are ultimately irrelevant to the investigation, but instead of fleshing out the characters to paint a deeper, richer portrait of the town, they just feel like Chibnall jerking his audience around.
In addition to the detectives and the victim’s family, Broadchurch incorporates various townspeople, religious leaders, opportunistic journalists and even a psychic, all of whom have their own dark secrets, most of which end up being unrelated to the matter at hand. The acting is often strong, and the visual style is often striking, but by the time everything has wrapped up, it hasn’t really amounted to much. Touted as the U.K.’s most-tweeted show, Broadchurch scored huge ratings in its home country and has been picked up for a second season, but its world already feels disappointingly limited.