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'Gracepoint': Can the new version of the UK’s 'Broadchurch' stand on its own?

'Gracepoint' is a new version of the British crime drama 'Broadchurch.' Both series star David Tennant, and Anna Gunn of 'Breaking Bad' will step into the female lead role for the American version.

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    'Gracepoint' stars David Tennant (l.) and Anna Gunn (r.).
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The Fox series “Gracepoint,” which debuts Oct. 2, is based on the critically acclaimed British TV series “Broadchurch” and features David Tennant of “Doctor Who” and “Breaking Bad” actress Anna Gunn as two police detectives investigating a murder.

“Broadchurch,” which premiered in the UK in 2013, centered on Alec Hardy (Tennant) and Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman), two members of the police force in a seaside town who are looking into the murder of an eleven-year-old boy. In “Gracepoint,” Tennant’s character has been renamed Emmett Carver, but Gunn’s character will remain Ellie Miller. The resolution to the murder mystery in “Gracepoint” will reportedly be different from the solution in “Broadchurch.” “Broadchurch” aired for 10 episodes (and is returning for a second season) and “Gracepoint” is currently slated for 12, according to USA Today.

“Gracepoint” also stars “Magic in the Moonlight” actress Jacki Weaver, Michael Pena of “American Hustle,” and actor Nick Nolte, among others. 

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Tennant told USA Today why he signed on for the American version of the show. 

“You know it's a good script,” he said. “You know it's an interesting character, so it's sort of a no-brainer to be involved in retelling a story that works and has been a bit of a phenomenon back home.”

The actor has now worked with two different actresses playing the character of Ellie, and said they offered two very distinct interpretations of the role. 

“Olivia is someone I loved working with and she has such a strong take on the character," he said. "I think what Anna did was extraordinary. It was a lot of the same source material and yet she has such a different take on it. Carver and Ellie are much more combative. [‘Gracepoint’'s] Ellie is much more sure of herself. Hardy and Ellie is a slightly more patronizing, withering thing.” 

The American version of the show has so far gotten mixed reviews, with many reviewers noting it’s tough not to compare the new version of the show to the British original, and to find it wanting. Neil Genzlinger of the New York Times warmed to it more than others, calling the show “smoldering… pretty good television.”

Unlike "Broadchurch, “Something about 'Gracepoint' underscores the story’s clichés," he wrote. "[But] let’s talk about people who know nothing of ‘Broadchurch.' Will Fox, which has been having a rough fall season, catch their interest with ‘Gracepoint’? It should, because Mr. Tennant (here playing an American) and Anna Gunn of ‘Breaking Bad’ pair quite well… Solid performances… let you overlook a lot of the tropes.”

Hank Stuever of the Washington Post also said that those who didn’t see the first series will probably be impressed.

“The good news is, for those many millions of broadcast TV watchers who never saw ‘Broadchurch’… ‘Gracepoint’ still has plenty of potential to be a real treat,” he wrote. “It’s a better quality of murder mystery all around… [but] ‘Gracepoint’ is lacking an ineffable something that “Broadchurch” definitely had.”

However, other reviewers had less love for the new show.

“What felt like a fresh take when 'Broadchurch' premiered on BBC America has become somewhat played out lately, with several shows… using a small-town murder as the catalyst to a broader drama,” Brian Lowry of Variety wrote. “None of that is ‘Gracepoint’’s fault, but it does speak to one of the dangers of such adaptations: Not only do you lose part of the impact among those who watched the original, but you trail far enough behind it to allow the inevitable clones to creep into the equation… the series… is competently executed… [but] ‘Gracepoint’ can’t help but feel as if something significant has been lost in translation.”

And Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times found that the new version “seems intentionally dumbed down.” 

“[Tennant] is nowhere near as good in ‘Gracepoint’ as he is in ‘Broadchurch,’” she wrote. “The coastal-town milieu of 'Gracepoint,' so vivid in and integral to 'Broadchurch,' seems just as fake as Tennant's accent… Fidelity may be a virtue in marriage but not necessarily in adaptation… With the exception of [murder victim] Danny's mother, Beth, played heartbreakingly by Virginia Kull, the rest of the roles hover closer to caricature than character.”

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