In the first series of ITV’s hugely successful crime drama Broadchurch, the murder of 11-year-old schoolboy Danny Latimer rocked the quiet seaside town as DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant) was put in charge of the investigation.
What followed was eight cuticle-crunching weeks of the most gripping and eviscerating television the UK had experienced in years as many of the town’s local residents came under suspicion, including Danny’s father Mark, with each episode twisting down increasingly grim paths until we finally reached the explosive revelation of the killer’s identity.
Immediately, we were told that Broadchurch would return, raising the question of how in the world do you top one of the best UK dramas in decades.
The first series thrived on the shock that the hideous murder of a child could happen in such a peaceful, idyllic town and fans were rightly nervous that a second series focusing on yet another murder would lessen the impact, turning the show into some kind of excessively bleak reboot of Midsummer Murders.
Blessedly, series two does not begin with the discovery of another body beneath the cliffs. Instead, and far more tragically, we simply carry on, several months later, as a still-shattered community comes together for the plea hearing of killer Joe Miller (Matthew Gravelle).
As the trailer’s tagline ominously teased beforehand, ‘the end is where it begins’ and for the new episodes writer Chris Chibnall has left the show’s grim procedural elements behind to explore in a deeply affecting manner how endings are rarely so clean cut in reality and how shocking events can have such brutal and long-lasting consequences.
No one is Broadchurch is found in a good way. Olivia Coleman’s Ellie Miller has receded to Devon, working as a traffic officer as she angrily fantasises about beating her husband and mourns the loss of a son who will no longer speak to her. Hardy is still suffering the dour effects of a heart condition and is tormenting himself over an unsolved case. And, of course, the Latimers are trying to rebuild their devastated family even as Joe’s trial pokes at their unhealed wounds.
In fact, the entire town is still shadowed in grief; their desperate need to move on instantly crushed by Joe’s surprising decision in the docks to plead “not guilty” to Danny’s murder.
So, can the series remain as compelling the second time around? On the basis of last night’s opener, perhaps even more so. The opening scenes may struggle to find the right tone without last series’ murder mystery angle to frame the story, but the episode quickly settles into a captivating rhythm as the shock revelations begin to tumble.
While the innocence of this close-knit community was firmly shattered in series one, there’s still plenty of dark secrets hidden within those crumbling cliffs, and Joe’s dogged defence team are seemingly determined to uncover them, literally digging up the past by requesting a fresh post-mortem on Danny’s body.
Following a year in which several brilliant dramas returned only to sour fans expectations, last night’s episode was the perfect start for Broadchurch’s second run, picking up the story with purpose and invention without losing any of the first series’ sweeping tension.
There are bigger challenges still to come but if Chibnall can continue to whip fans into a frenzied anticipation and the performances continue to be as powerfully evocative, then who’s to say nine million of us won’t still be watching in eight weeks time?
Click here to watch Broadchurch: Series Two, Episode One on ITV Player