Grace Dent on TV: Broadchurch is actually just Eastenders, shot in a sweeping Scandi style

Even an Albert Square addict like me is finding this sequel hard to swallow

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Fans of drama will have been overjoyed to see the return this week of Broadchurch, because, my word, it was very dramatic. All of the drama, all of the time. I finished the first hour of the new series with a tension migraine, which was remarkable as much of the opening hour was spent watching characters wrestle Charlotte Rampling – retired QC Jocelyn Knight – away from an audiobook. Or watching DS Miller (Olivia Colman) dole out speeding tickets. Down on the beach, we found an unshaven DI Hardy (David Tennant) clearly in the midst of a post-series-one nervous breakdown – squinting, mumbling, grumping at journos, having issues. Let’s suspend our disbelief that either of these people would be employed right now. They’re so battle-scarred by series one, they aren’t compos mentis enough to be trusted with a desk job stamping forms.

 

In a tense courtroom, Joe Miller – the killer – changed his plea from guilty to not guilty at the eleventh hour. Not for any profound reason other than “I don’t much fancy prison”. Judging by the court’s reaction, this was the first time in legal history a very disturbed person has behaved erratically when put in the spotlight. Much drama ensued. Too much, in fact. The camera panned around contorted “smell the fart” faces. Someone on the backing score really went to town on a cello. Several viewers intending to do “dry January” poured a massive restorative Scotch. That cheery Welsh woman from Torchwood appeared, saying something like: “Yes, I know, I’ve been in an unofficial witness protection scheme for nine months, apparently, yeah, mad, isn’t it!? But I’ve chosen today – of all days – to break cover!” Everyone seems furious at DS Miller, as if it’s her fault that her husband set up a secret cuddle-club with an under-age boy.

I’ll be frank. I’m not sure about this new series of Broadchurch. I know ITV must have found it irresistible to provide eight million viewers with a second serving, but like most remarkable, unique things, it was best left. Yes, indeed, series two is enormous and ballsy. “Look,” it screams, “We’ve got Marianne Jean-Baptiste playing Sharon Bishop! Behold her slick Hollywood fabulousness! AND she’s in a grudge-match with Charlotte Rampling, too. One mentored the other. Now there’s beef. How do you like that?” Success has led to this  already fine ensemble cast not just returning with full effect, but with added big-name sparkle.

Yet, at the very same time, here’s a plot as patchy and as shamelessly far-fetched as a sub-par Midsomer Murders. DI Hardy, we should accept, has been running an unofficial witness protection programme in a massive luxury cottage close to the murder scene, which no one knew about, not even his partner, Miller, despite the fact that they’ve lived cheek by jowl for months. In this part of the world, one couldn’t secretly break wind without the Broadchurch Bugle being tipped off by four sources. Miller has decided to move into the witness protection cottage, with her child, despite being told that another child killer is on the loose and is en route to the cottage to wreak revenge. I suppose the trick is to relax one’s brain and just enjoy the pleasant dramatic sensations as they wash across one’s frontal lobes.

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Broadchurch series two is all very dramatic (ITV)

I can do this, dammit. I’m an ardent EastEnders fan. I know how to go with the (wholly ridiculous) flow. If EastEnders showed a bereaved pregnant mother tracking down and emotionally blackmailing a retired QC, yelling that she couldn’t give birth to another baby if she’d failed the dead one, I’d roll my eyes and write it off as standard soap-world schlock. Perhaps the uncomfortabe truth is that Broadchurch is actually just EastEnders – which is also winning audiences of around eight million presently – for people who’d never dream of touching soap and are rather smug about the fact that it is shot in a sweeping Scandi manner. They think they’re watching something a cut above, but they’re not.

And there’s no shame in that: I spent 1 January watching the recently undead Nick Cotton sabotage a New Year’s Day wedding by cutting the brake cables in a car. The highlight of my Christmas was watching Danny Dyer as Mick Carter smashing up the Queen Vic following the news that his nephew had raped his wife, except he now knew it wasn’t his nephew, it was his brother because his sister, Shirley, was his mum. However, I doubt that even in EastEnders a corpse would be exhumed almost instantly after the murder trial took a U-turn – without endless weeks of build-up – with the bereaved family arriving mid-dig. To shout. And what exactly were they shouting about? They were on the beach, that morning, shouting about how vital Joe Miller’s conviction was.

We have some idea, via large hints, how the plot will pan out over future weeks. We need to find out why the very, very brilliant but retired QC stopped working. We need to know why her protégée Sharon Bishop feels so betrayed by her. We need to know how David Tennant gets such favourable deals on spacious holiday cottages. We need to know how Beth Latimer – mother of the victim – has wangled it so she’s the one in charge of appointing the prosecuting counsel. And, of course, we need to know if Joe will be convicted. One thing is certain: it’s all going to be very dramatic.

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