From the moment FOX ordered “Gracepoint,” a remake of the acclaimed British mystery series “Broadchurch” (which aired here last year on BBC America), featuring “Broadchurch” star David Tennant reprising his role with an American accent, the prevailing reaction I've heard has been one word:
Why do a remake of a great series that aired on American TV very recently, and that was in English, to boot? It's one thing to say that U.S. viewers don't want to read subtitles, and that therefore there may be justification do do a speedy remake of “The Returned,” but when the actors – including one actor in common across both projects – are speaking the same language, and when the first two episodes at a minimum (the only ones I've seen) are very similar to the original in terms of plot points, character beats, and even many of the same shots, why is this necessary?
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Dan Futterman, who adapted the series with his wife and frequent collaborator Anya Epstein and “Broadchurch” creator Chris Chibnall, spent much of the show's press tour panel responding to those questions.
“The first order of business was 'Don't screw up what works, because it was fantastic,'” Futterman said. “We didn't want to break what was working, but we also wanted to raise this show in a different country. We have 10 episodes as opposed to 8, and we start to veer from the storyline.”
When critics noted how similar the first two episodes (the pilot in particular) are to how “Broadchurch” started, producer Carolyn Bernstein said that they spent a lot of time considering a different beginning before returning to what Chibnall had already done.
“The way the story was told was so well-done, so why contort ourselves to figure out a different way to tell the story when that was the smartest, most compelling way to launch the story?” Bernstein said. “I know you guys have only seen the first two. We promise that as the series progresses, it really diverges in pretty significant ways from the original. But particularly in that first episode, it felt like the smartest, best launching pad. We didn't want to fix something that we thought was excellent.”
Futterman talked about how the setting itself would change the story, and called the impressive cast – including Anna Gunn as Tennant's cop partner, Michael Pena as the father of the murdered boy, Nick Nolte and Jacki Weaver as two mysterious local residents, Kevin Rankin as the town priest and Jessica Lucas and Kevin Zegers as two reporters investigating both the case and Tennant – “the primary reason to do the show again.”
With 10 episodes to play with as opposed to the 8 of the original, Futterman and company also intend to explore certain characters – say, the boyfriend of the victim's older sister – more deeply than they were in “Broadchurch.” The ending will also likely be different, though Futterman wouldn't commit to that.
“I don't want you to rule anybody out,” he said coyly. “That's not to be coy, but I don't think you should rule anybody out as a suspect. We end in a very different place, which is very exciting for the very first season, and very exciting for what could be… a great second season.”
Bernstein also said that while they believe “Gracepoint” will have many things to offer “Broadchurch” fans, that audience was ultimately too small to drive any of the creative decisions they made.
“In terms of BBC America,” she said, “their viewing audience for 'Broadchurch' represents less than 1 percent of the American television viewing population, so we're not particularly worried about the overlap.”
“My mom is right down the alley of the BBC America audience,” Futterman said, “but she started watching it and said, 'I can't understand a word they're saying.'” (Tennant, mock indignant, interrupted to cry “Hey!”)
“I think that was a common experience,” Futterman continued. “There were some devoted viewers and cultured viewers who watched that whole show and loved it. We watched the whole show and loved it. I think that in the way the original viewers of the (Hong Kong) movie 'The Departed' was taken from can watch it and realize there is DNA here that's exactly the same, but it's set in a different place, and it's going to start to change very very rapidly. By the third and fourth episode, you see very great detours – and then it reverts to form as well, because the genetics of the show are so powerful. We deviated as much as we wanted to, and as much as we could, while still trying to tell this story that has a beginning and now a different ending.”
It's certainly an impressive cast (even if Tennant is much more interesting as a Scotsman than trying to sound American), and they and the changed cultural setting may ultimately make “Gracepoint” enough of a different beast to be worth it for people who devoured “Broadchurch.” But at a minimum, those viewers are going to require a lot of patience to get to the changes – and to find out whether the changes wind up diluting the thematic purity of the original, or are just there so the handful of “Broadchurch” viewers can't spoil things for the hoped-for larger “Gracepoint” audience.