If “Gracepoint” is what America wants on TV, get ready for more mysteries that take a season to solve.
You’ll also want to prepare yourself for more squabbling detective duos.
Get ready for even more shows “adapted from the Swedish or Danish or British crime series,” the new shorthand for dramas that are reliably thoughtful and complex, heavy on atmosphere and pessimistic about humanity.
Cable has been snatching good European shows and remaking them for a while, but “Gracepoint” — adapted from the British crime series “Broadchurch” — brings its moody mystery to Thursday nights on Fox.
Anna Gunn, who collected two Emmys for her crazy-good run on “Breaking Bad,” joins former “Doctor Who” star David Tennant, who reprises his role in the original as the brooding lead detective on a child murder case that rips apart a small town.
This time, the town is a coastal community north of San Francisco that makes its money on whale-watching tourists. When a 12-year-old kid shows up dead on the beach, the crime scene tents drive some of the locals crazy, in that “Reopen the beaches or we’ll all go bankrupt!” way that Amity merchants reacted in “Jaws.”
Gunn and Tennant are flat-out fantastic in “Gracepoint.” The supporting cast, including Nick Nolte at maximum haggard levels, is compelling. They’re so good, it might take a while to notice that you’ve seen this story before, even if you haven’t seen “Broadchurch.”
The formula for adapted European shows has gotten so repetitive, most savvy viewers will be able to predict the twisty ups and downs of “Gracepoint.” If you watched “The Bridge” on FX or AMC’s “The Killing,” you’ll know what’s coming.
Start with just the right victim, found in exactly the wrong place.
“The Killing” drowned its pretty teenager in the trunk of a politician’s car. “The Bridge’s” victim, a cartel member, was dumped on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Gracepoint” is about the murder of Danny Solano, a 12-year-old who sneaked out on a school night with his skateboard and ended up below a coastal cliff.
Because of who he is and where he was found, politicians care. The rich folks in town care. The public cares. The detectives care most of all, and not just because everyone is leaning on them to make an arrest.
Cast great actors as mismatched sleuths.
In “Gracepoint,” Emmett Carver (Tennant) is the quiet, brusque, brilliant one. Ellie Miller (Gunn) is the brash, emotional one. They don’t really want to be working together: Miller was passed over for the job Carver got. Her new boss, following the model, has a case in his past that haunts him, makes the current one resonate, and so on.
“I hope you’re happy,” Miller snaps at Carver after the Solano family leaves a meeting with the police in tears.
“Why is everyone saying that to me today?” he replies, genuinely baffled. “I’m never happy.”
Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) and Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) were the stoic, reflective halves of the equations in “The Bridge” and “The Killing.” These guys should all get together and frown in the same unmarked sedan.
Average one red herring per episode.
Imagine living in a quaint little haven where a dozen people had a different motive to kill the same 12-year-old kid. I’ll stick with city life, thanks.
“Gracepoint” has some promising suspects: a publicity-hungry priest, a gruff old whitebeard who hangs out with young boys, a creepy lady who lives on the beach, Danny’s constantly lying dad and the blowhard he employs as a plumbing apprentice.
On “The Killing,” Rosie Larsen’s constantly lying dad owned a moving and storage company, and his lackey was a blowhard who was one of that show’s parade of suspects. The (spoiler-filled) similarities don’t end there, either.
Make things worse by solving the case.
“Gracepoint” has a few mustache-twirling evil journalists who lend a hand in the chaos of the police probe, sipping lattes and openly plotting to “get ahead” in the news business by exploiting the grieving family.
Carver’s investigation quickly dismantles Gracepoint’s false sense of security. By the time he and Miller slap cuffs on the right person, families will be destroyed by some decades-old secrets. It’s how these things go. Closure is for “Law & Order.”
Even HBO’s “True Detective,” lauded as one of the best shows of 2014, owed its success to the Scandinavian murder mystery formula despite being made in the USA. Heart-tugging victims + cantankerous cops + suspects everywhere + ambiguous ending = Emmy nominations.
“Gracepoint’s” story isn’t implausible or boring, and the show is stuffed with scenes that will twist your gut and characters that will stick with you. (Full disclosure: Nick Nolte made me cry.) But how many times can we watch this same basic story?
How long until we’ve had enough of quirky, brooding cops in trench coats? When do these well-executed, superbly acted mysteries start looking like just another Ikea futon?
To reach Sara Smith, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @SarawatchesKC
WHERE TO WATCH
“Gracepoint” premieres at 8 p.m. Thursday on Fox.