TV Review: ‘Gracepoint’ is ‘Broadchurch’ Again, Too Late with Sparks?

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

I have yet to see the “Broadchurch” series, but last week really felt like a breath of fresh air as “Gracepoint” ventured off the beaten path with an original storyline. Tom Miller (Jack Irvine) went missing on the way to school, pulling the community together as a search party went out. The police (led by Ellie) and community team (led by Mark Solano) came across the boy’s bike in the woods nearing the property of Lars Pierson (Brendan Fletcher), a person of interest in the Danny Solano case.

This week, the story resumed with the search parties. Ellie (Anna Gunn) insists on staying out, but Emmett (David Tennant) calls her “Ellie” and tells her to go home. It’s yet another glimmer of progress in the working relationship of the two, which Emmett breaks later by telling her not to call him “Emmett.” Soon after Ellie departs, Paul Coates (Kevin Rankin) finds Tom. Paul comes off as especially creepy, singing hymns as he waves his flashlight about.

Tom reveals to his parents and Emmett that he wanted to find Lars Pierson and hopefully end the case so that he could have his mom back. The hero story doesn’t seem to tie everything together, as viewers know that Tom deleted a lot of data from Danny on his phone and computer; later, Paul finds him smashing the laptop.

The focus of the investigation takes two tracks, as Emmett and Ellie can no longer hold Lars the backpacker. It seems unlikely that the culprit is Lars. Mark (Michael Peña) draws Emmett’s attention to some facts about Paul: finding both Tom’s bike and then Tom, looking for opportunities to be on the news, and being in love with Beth Solano (Virginia Kull). Also, Paul was seen at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. The ensuing interviews tease out more of the tension between Emmett and Paul, who believes Emmett brings only “suspicion” and damage when the community needs comfort from the church.

There’s finally a bit of life injected into the Solano household as they attempt to return to normal activities like work and school. Beth enlists of the help of reporter Renee Clemons (Jessica Lucas) to get a meeting with a mother from the Rosemont fiasco, to see how she can move past Danny’s death. She’s quite horrified to find that this mother has still not recovered, spending the days watching television, drinking, and taking sleeping pills. The POV shots of Beth as she watches the woman leave dejectedly are powerful in showing what her future could easily be. It’s a good wake up call that launches her into action, to help her family find a way to start moving in a positive direction.

Mark and Chloe (Madalyn Horcher) have also been having a difficult first day back at their routine. The Solanos end up at the bowling alley, with the symbolic moment of breaking Danny’s record score. It’s also the first time Beth positively entertains the option of keeping the new baby. It’s a nice spark in this installment, when the performances of these actors have generally been flat. However, I’m surprised the production team used 5-pin bowling, a strictly Canadian form of the sport, when this series is supposed to take place in a coastal town in California. (Yes, the series is filmed in Vancouver.) It probably left a lot of viewers scratching their heads or even detracted from the family moment.

As I mentioned earlier, there are two persons of interest this week. The second is Susan Wright (Jacki Weaver), the scary lady from the trailer park who threatened Kathy Eaton (Alisen Down), the editor of Gracepoint Journal. Susan pays a visit to Tom’s house, giving him Danny’s skateboard (which we saw in her closet in episode one). She refuses to say anything to detectives until she gets her dog back.

Ellie and Emmett go to back to the cabin, as someone is trespassing at the crime scene. It’s amazing that they don’t take an extra officer or two to help with the arrest. The rainy and windy weather mimics the same conditions that befell Emmett during his dream earlier in the episode. It’s not a surprise that Emmett collapses while they’re in pursuit of the hooded figure. Is this collapse the one to do him in, as he suspects? Probably not, but it could lead to restrictions of his activity on the case.

The eighth episode seems to have been a mixed bag. It offered a compelling performance by Virginia Kull as Beth. David Tennant and Anna Gunn continue to build on their chemistry (which had an inkling with the burrito conversation weeks ago). The two are good choices to be the leads, but the production needs to better utilize them. We’ve known them to be strong actors in their previous roles (“Doctor Who” and “Breaking Bad,” respectively).

Earlier this year, FOX said that “Gracepoint” will take a different route than “Broadchurch.” Producers have emphasized that they didn’t “need to change something that was perfect.” However, as critics have noted, the carryover has been far from perfect. The final outcome of the case is strongly hinted to be another character as well. Making original material for “Gracepoint” really shows how great the program could be, so it’s shame they didn’t bring more into the first episodes. These tactics may ultimately be the undoing of the series, which regularly loses in its time slot to ABC’s hit “Scandal.” It’s such a far cry from the the popularity carried by ITV’s “Broadchurch,” which just released new promos in anticipation of the January 2015 premiere of its second season.

“Gracepoint” airs Thursday evenings at 9|8c on FOX.

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