‘The jury’s out’ is the almost unanimous, suitable courtroom-centred idiom currently being used to describe the second series of Chris Chibnall’s Broadchurch. We’re not even at the end of the series and already a verdict has been passed. What was in 2013 considered television critics’ golden child has now become a new universally recognised punching bag. ‘Snorechurch’ and ‘Boredchurch’ are just two of the key phrases presently being bounded around the critical sphere, with unrealistic storylines and a lack of tension seemingly responsible for the show’s spectacular fall from grace.
But, does Broadchurch series 2 really deserve the critical kicking that it is being given? Has it really been as bad as everybody keeps saying it is, or has it simply become a victim of its own success? Perhaps it is even too early in the run to even make an informed decision about these kind of things?
Let’s start with the obvious. Of course Broadchurch series 2 is not as good as its predecessor, but then again, very few treats of television will ever be that good. Set in a small fictional Dorset town consisting of a close-knit community, Broadchurch began with a plotline that ran through its inaugural series, following the murder of a young boy that shocks the townspeople.
Series 1 was an almost incomparable roller coaster ride that consistently held the nation’s attention firmly in its grip for eight consecutive weeks. “Who killed Danny?” was the question on everybody’s lips with 8.4 million viewers tuning in to the show’s final episode to discover the answer, a staggering achievement in a modern age of catch-up TV and a multitude of other streaming services.
What was in 2013 considered television critics’ golden child has now become a new universally recognised punching bag.
Yet, in this astounding success lies the second series’ key dilemma: how to hold the audience’s attention once the killer has been caught? As the credits rolled on series 1, and an ominous title card appeared reading “Broadchurch will return” leading many to speculate where, when and how the show would continue. Nightmarish visions of various Midsummer Murder–esque plotlines were quickly soothed by the more than intelligible minds of Chris Chibnall and his writing team. Instead of resorting to a lazy re-hashing of the first run they have instead tried to lead the show into a more realistic and potentially more intriguing direction. What if catching of the killer was just the start of the troubles for the residents of the titular seaside town?
Reviewers of the second series have been quick to sneer at some of the show’s factual and logical inconsistencies. The Daily Mail’s Christopher Steven claims that Broadchurch has “…shifted into a parallel universe” citing the barrister’s “incorrect” wigs as a case in point. Stuart Jeffries of The Guardian has too supported this, declaring that he did not sign up for “…a courtroom drama that plays fast and loose with legal procedure and our capacity to suspend disbelief.” These critics amongst others demonstrate the journalistic readiness to dismiss a show in its entirety without engaging with the very form of the thing they are critiquing. Serial television operates across a breadth of time; it is a developing process whereby an absolute verdict cannot be determined until all of the pieces have been put into place. Series 2 still has plenty to expose, and its change in temporal shift should be approached with curiosity rather than immediate negative criticism, since many of the series’ challenges posed by overly serious reviews also ignore the fact that television drama is not reality.
Broadchurch plays “fast and loose” with the facts in order to cultivate an interesting and gripping story for the viewer to get wrapped up in. Moreover, many of the factual inconsistencies (such as the barrister’s incorrect headwear) would go unnoticed were it not for reviewers going out of their way to spot them. It has seemed almost right from the start that Broadchurch series 2 has been set up by the press to be a failure, because the headline “The Once Great Broadchurch Is Now Awful” will gain more traction than “Broadchurch Isn’t As Good As It Was But It’s Still Worthwhile Television”. The opposition to Broadchurch series 2 just epitomises the trending culture of television criticism to have to resort to desperate nitpicking in order to have something to say when there is nothing.
Does Broadchurch series 2 really deserve the critical kicking that it is being given?
The problem is, of course, that critics can influence public opinion. Articles complain about the factual inconsistencies “taking the viewer out of the drama” when the reviewers themselves can have that precise effect on the viewer’s relation to the programme. Broadchurch series 2 fails because the viewer has been conditioned to look for the cracks in the paint; people would stop going to see the Venus de Milo if all they were told was that it was anatomically incorrect.
For as long as television as a popular medium has existed, so too have journalists who possess the critical capacity to influence the consensus of taste and value in popular culture. Perhaps one day, once the furore surrounding Broadchurch has receded and is no longer a concern of the mainstream media, we will be able to look back upon the show’s second series with kinder eyes. It’s not an iconic chapter in television history, but is a gripping, emotive drama that takes the premise of its predecessor in a brave, if not flawed, new direction. However, the ability of the information age we live in to tarnish the reputation of cultural commodities, makes this prospect an improbable one thanks to the barrage of critical backlash branded upon this still unfinished second series.