There’s something captivating and endearing about “Gracepoint,” Fox’s new, 10-part remake of the British series “Broadchurch” that premiered Thursday. Like any compelling whodunit that tries a bit too hard, “Gracepoint” intertwines murder mystery with family drama and delights in teasing the viewer with suspense.
Danny Solano, a 12-year-old, is found dead on a beach in the fictionalized secluded Northern California coastal town of Gracepoint, Eureka. Emmet Carver (David Tennant, who played the same role in Broadchurch) is a gruff detective sent to the case as an outsider of the town and gets paired with detective Ellie Miller (Anna Gunn), a longtime resident of Gracepoint and loving mother of two.
The small, closely knit town quickly turns upon itself, rife with suspicion and distrust after Danny’s death is confirmed to be a homicide. There are only so many people in Gracepoint — and so, like the game Clue or And Then There Were None, anyone could be the killer.
In one long take in the pilot, Danny’s father walks the viewer through the town, introducing the cast of characters and, therefore, potential murderers.
The show is eager to introduce various stock suspects: the creepy trailer lady with bulging eyes; the sketchy, crusty old fisherman; the freaky priest; and so on. The cliche intense music and slow close-ups of the characters in the first few episodes are clearly meant to throw the viewer off trail, but it’s still creepy as hell. Suspicion soon arises that it might have been one of Danny’s friends or even family members, causing even more grief to those who were close to him.
Tennant commands a hushed presence as the lanky, brooding detective. Carver is not necessarily the most groundbreaking of protagonists, but he’s exactly what’s to be expected from a crime drama — an introspective, skinny white guy haunted by the ghosts of his past who rocks the floppy hair, scruff and long trench coat just as much as the next detective on cable. His blunt rudeness is a cover-up for — wait for it — an emotionally fraught and just-barely-hinted-at dark backstory.
Detective Miller, on the other hand, is a breath of fresh air. She alone carries a charismatic aura throughout “Gracepoint.” Gunn is effortlessly likable as Ellie Miller and delivers the same balance of gravitas and compassion that she did in “Breaking Bad” as Skyler White.
The rest of the cast is decent. Virginia Kull delivers a great performance as Danny’s mom, who suffers greatly from the trauma of losing her son. Her character is one of the few that doesn’t come across as completely stagnant — the worst being the skeevy journalists. Jessica Lucas plays Renee Clemons, a spectacularly irritating writer for the “San Francisco Globe.” Even worse, there’s romantic tension between her and a greasy local reporter who really needs to wash his hair and stop smirking all the time.
While most characters are pretty one sided, the plot-heavy nature of “Gracepoint” keeps the show fast paced and engrossing as suspicions shift from person to person. Each scene is deliberate and keeps the story from getting bogged down with boring side-plots.
It’s also beautifully shot. Similar to the English seaside cliffs of “Broadchurch,” the placid California coastline — actually filmed in British Columbia, which is evident to those familiar with Northern California’s more-turbulent shoreline — is a thoughtful and vast backdrop for the show. The repeated use of centered, symmetrical shots helps ground confusing scenes, and saturated primary colors are everywhere to be found in the foggy town.
While everything about “Gracepoint” is a bit forced, the overall effect is entertaining and gripping. Even if it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, “Gracepoint” is recommended for the fabulous leading actors and its intriguing, tangled web of accusation and chaos.
“Gracepoint” runs on FOX on Thursdays at 9/8 central.