I am not now, nor have I ever been, a fan of remakes because in the majority of cases the originals are always better than their offspring. What’s the point of taking a perfectly good film or series and doing it over with different stars? If the first effort is good, I would just as soon watch it again as suffer through a newer and, in most cases, an inferior version.
Although I could cite myriad examples to support my opinion, I will limit said proof to just two classics – “An Affair to Remember” (1958) and “Psycho” (1960). In the former the always elegant Deborah Kerr and the consistently debonair Cary Grant were dazzling in one of the great weepers of all time. And in the latter Anthony Perkins scared the bejesus out of us with his deliciously disturbing portrayal of the diabolically deranged Norman Bates.
Instead of leaving these two masterpieces to remain pristine, Hollywood had to produce a couple of remakes, and so in 1994 we got “Love Affair,” in which Warren Beatty and Annette Bening made a mockery of “An Affair to Remember.” Then in 1998 Vince Vaughn turned the chillingly psychopathic Norman Bates into a ludicrously repulsive masturbatory Peeping Tom in the “Psycho” remake.
With this in mind, it was no wonder that I approached watching Fox’s new mystery series “Gracepoint” with more than a little trepidation and apprehension. One of the true highlights of last year’s television season was “Broadchurch,” a riveting British murder mystery that aired on the American BBC. The show was rife with tension, drama, surprises, and suspense. And it kept you guessing until the final episode.
“Gracepoint” is the American version of “Broadchurch,” and if its pilot is any indication, it is going to be excellent. Whereas “Broadchurch” was set on the Dorset coast, “Gracepoint” takes place in a small California coastal town not too far from San Francisco, and like its predecessor it sucks you in immediately with the discovery of a young boy’s body on a beautiful beach beneath a steep cliff. Gracepoint is a little town where the residents lead a rather idyllic existence, and so this creates considerable turmoil, especially when the police decide that the boy’s death may be a homicide instead of suicide.
The chief investigative officer is Det. Emmett Carver (David Tennant), a newcomer to the force much to the dismay of Det. Ellie Miller (Anna Gunn), who had been promised the position Carver fills. When the victim turns out to be Danny Solano, the son of Ellie’s good friend Beth (Virginia Kull), Ellie knows she must swallow her pride and do her best to help Carver catch the killer.
As the investigation proceeds, virtually all of the townspeople become affected by it in one way or another, and before it’s over, no one is above suspicion. For this reason, the tension will remain high throughout the series; at least it did so in “Broadchurch.”
In addition to the dominant murder mystery, what is going to make “Gracepoint” so interesting is the interaction of all the diverse characters in the town, all of whom have their own skeletons in the closet. Chole Solano (Madalyn Horcher) is Danny’s sister, and her big secret is her older boyfriend Dean Iverson (Kendrick Sampson). Then there’s Jack Reinhold (Nick Nolte), the eccentric recluse who rents kayaks on the waterfront and who knew Danny well.
Add to the mix Susan Wright (Jacki Weaver), a strange loaner living in a trailer by the beach with her dog, minister Paul Coates (Kevin Rankin), and two newspaper reporters, Owen Burke (Kevin Zegers) of the local newspaper, and Renee Clemons (Jessica Lucas) of the San Francisco Globe. It will be intriguing to see how all these characters develop as the series proceeds.
As he was in “Broadchurch,” Tennant is the key character in “Gracepoint,” and in an online interview with Daniel Feinberg of Hitfix the Scottish-born actor explained why he decided to reprise his role in the American version of the series.
“I’ve had a couple of sorta close brushes with American television in recent years, things that nearly happened, things that were about to happen and didn’t, things that could have happened. And then this arrived, slightly from left field as you say. It was something that I was already very associated with, with ‘Broadchurch.’ But here was something; they weren’t going make a pilot. They were going to go straight and make a series. It was going to be executive produced by two people that I knew and trusted very dearly. It was a story that I knew worked. There were very few negatives, really. It felt like this was the thing to get involved with. Also, it was unprecedented. Certainly personally it was unprecedented. I didn’t know of this happening a lot, so I thought, ‘Well that’s got to be a novelty.’ It just felt like it was such an unusual opportunity, and yet it had so many positives attached to it that it was something of a no-brainer in the end, I guess.”
As a native of Scotland, Tennant quite naturally has a noticeable accent that served him well in “Broadchurch,” but for the American series, he completely loses the Scottish brogue. It never ceases to amaze me when an actor succeeds in doing this, and in the same interview, Tennant addressed this issue.
“Obviously it’s a very keen point of concentration when you come to do something like this. You want to get it right because you’re having to fool the natives, I suppose. It’s something I had done before, so I wasn’t coming to it fresh. I’ve worked with dialect coaches on accents before now, so I suppose I was familiar with the process. Ultimately, it’s not really for me to judge, but I quite enjoy getting to work in different accents because it somehow makes you feel like a different person. It makes you wear your clothes differently. It makes you walk differently somehow. It infects your being, sounding in different way, and that’s the same when I use an English accent or a Welsh accent or whatever else you might do. It’s a challenge, but it’s something I quite relish, I think.”
Tennant and Gunn work really well together, and of course Gunn is no stranger to a TV series because she has two prime-time Emmys to her credit for her marvelous portrayal of Skyler White in “Breaking Bad,” one of the best shows in the history television. Ellie is character attempting to cope with the disappointment of losing the promotion she thinks she deserves and the murder of her son’s best friend. If you watched Gunn in “Breaking Bad,” you know that she is a master of conveying various emotions, and her portrayal of Ellie is no exception.
“Gracepoint” inarguably is one of the best shows of the new TV season. The setting is stunning, the acting is superb, and the plot is riveting. If it follows “Broadchurch” as closely as it already has, its denouement will shock the hell out of you. If this were not a remake, I would give it a 10, but because I know the story already I must deduct one point for lack of originality, leaving “Gracepoint” with the final score of a stellar nine. Plan to visit this intriguing town every Thursday for the next nine weeks. You won’t regret it.