Spoiler-Free Review: Broadchurch (Series 1) starring David Tennant

DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) & DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant)

Broadchurch is a marvel.  I have never seen a TV drama that explores the emotions of so many characters so convincingly.  Crimes are traumatizing.  Broadchurch gets this perfectly.  Nor have I have ever seen a crime drama that packs a visual punch in so many scenes.  The Dorset coast is a character in Broadchurch.  It plays its role as effectively as any of the brilliant actors in this piece.  And that brings up the acting.  You won’t find a weak performance and some are unforgettable.  –Excerpt from an IMDB review

As in The Fall and Happy Valley, Broadchurch‘s lead character, Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (David Tennant- using his real Scottish accent),  is a troubled individual (a past case gone wrong, mysterious health matter, etc.)  He is brought in to a lovely/small town on the Dorset coast to investigate the mysterious death of young Billy Latimer, who was the best friend of Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller’s (Olivia Colman) son, Tom.  DS Miller, the local top cop, is (of course) shocked by this death.  Also, she thought that she was getting the promotion given to Hardy, which causes tension/awkwardness in the squad room. 

The Latimer family headed by Mark (Andrew Buchan from Cranford, Garrow’s Law)

The insider, Miller, tries to investigate her close friends and many community members in a respectful manner, but Hardy (the outsider) has an abrasive personality that almost everyone chafes against.  The media can be used for good, or cause a LOT of problems, with a police investigation.  Miller’s reporter nephew, Olly (Jonathan Stevens, who resembles Hugh Dancy), is eager to learn all the details for the local paper.  Olly is a good guy who makes a BIG rookie mistake on Twitter.  The seemingly happy/picture-perfect Latimers are NOT all what they seem.  Suspicion falls on several individuals, including the recently-arrived/young Anglican priest, Rev. Coates (Arthur Darvill).  He was one of the most interesting characters in the show- thoughtful, spiritual, yet also a BIT mysterious. 

Two journalists, an eager local & a more experienced outsider, show of the power of the news media

Writer Chris Chibnall was inspired by two American crime shows- Twin Peaks and Murder One (which I watched and really liked).  Unlike The Fall and Happy Valley, this show has a broader scope (think soap opera, but much more sophisticated/intelligent).  You get to know about MORE people, several of whom dwell in the gray areas of life.  Check it out (Netflix).  I just learned that Series 2 (BBC) has Charlotte Rampling and Marianne Jean-Baptiste- WOW! 


Spoiler-Free Review: Happy Valley

Sgt. Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) tries to crack down on drug dealers (& other criminals) in her small/rural Yorkshire community.

After watching The Fall, I noticed that MANY fans of that show recommended this one, so I decided to take a look.  After the first two eps, I was hooked.  Sgt. Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire, who played a supporting role in The Paradise) is the type of cop you’d never see on network TV in the US, or perhaps never as the lead.  She’s a grandmother, no-nonsense, passionate (esp. about her family), and looks like a REAL middle-aged woman!  And when she gets beaten up on the job, the injuries are not quickly covered up w/ makeup. 

Catherine is motivated to be a good cop b/c of her (complicated) family/personal life and an inherent sense of fairness.  She is raising her grandson, Ryan, a good-hearted kid who has been acting out in school recently.  Ryan’s mother was Catherine’s only daughter. 

Do you recognize her? Clare (Siobhan Finneran from Downton Abbey) is Catherine’s sis!

At home, she has her sister, Clare (Siobhan Finneran), is a recovering drug addict who provides an ear and a lot of emotional support (in lieu of rent).  Drugs, particularly heroin, have affected MANY of the young people of this valley.  Catherine’s ex-husband, a journalist, remarried years ago, but they still have a connection.  In time, we meet Catherine’s son, Daniel, and learn about their strained relationship. 

Ashley – left (Joe Armstrong)

There are several well-developed supporting characters, including Joe Armstrong (BBC’s Robin Hood).  I was pleasantly surprised to see that many of the cops (in the background, recurring characters) were British Asians (or South Asians, as we say here).  The show is definitely a vehicle for Lancashire, who shows the many sides to a complicated individual.  Her big, expressive blue eyes and authoritative tone are great assets.  I loved ALL the scenes she had with her grandson! 

Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton)

Catherine is stunned when she sees an ex-con, Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton from Grantchurch), from her daughter’s past walking the streets.  She MUST find out more!  To fans of the movie Fargo, the awkwardly-planned/amateur kidnapping will be especially interesting.  Check out this show (Season 1 is on Netflix)- you won’t be disappointed!   

Spoiler-Free Review: The Fall starring Gillian Anderson & Jamie Dornan

Stella Gibson (Gillian Gibson) is a cop in a league of her own!
Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) is a cop in a league of her own!

This show is brilliant, and really made me look at American television women in such a new and terrible light. I had seen an episode of “The Mysteries of Laura” and I know that I am comparing apples and oranges, but was really struck by the childishness and immaturity of women in their 40’s often seen in American TV and the Fall, Happy Valley, Broadchurch (these British shows) are such contrast.

We women live in a world in which we constantly have to think about our safety not only from Spector as the stranger lurking in the bushes stalking us we work on a computer in our home, but also from Spectors- the personal lying, manipulating, abusing us as he did to his wife, neighbor, grief patient, etc.

Obviously, Anderson’s Stella is simply incredible. My second favorite actress on the show? Olivia. Girl is adorable and a straight up talented actress. 

Various comments from Slate readers

Man f*cks woman. Subject: man; verb: f*cks; object: woman. That’s OK. Woman f*cks man. Woman: subject; man: object. That’s not so comfortable for you, is it?

The media loves to divide women into virgins and vamps, angels or whores. Let’s not encourage them.

 -Some of my fave lines (from Stella)

Do you love cop shows, but want something w/ a different perspective?  Do you love well-developed, multi-dimensional characters, especially strong women?  Then, you need to check out this psychological thriller (on Netflix) ASAP!  This show is NOT for everyone!  If SVU scares you, avoid this show.  The Fall contains some (troubling) images/scenes that will linger in your mind for days. 

Jim (John Lynch) & Stella have a complicated relationship.
Jim (John Lynch) & Stella have a complicated relationship.

Metropolitan Police Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) from London is flown to Belfast, Ireland (by a former colleague, ACC Jim Burns) to investigate why a certain murder case is taking longer than 28 days.  She dresses in silk blouses and black skirts (not like a man) using her brains AND beauty.  While Stella is going over routine paperwork and interviewing local detectives, a similar murder occurs.  The victim is a tall, brunette, professional single woman in her early 30s.  Rumors fly in the media that a serial killer is on the loose, and Stella springs into action. 

Dr. Reed Smith (Archie Panjabi) & Stella share convo/drinks.

Archie Panjabi left ABC’s The Good Wife (which garnered her fame/awards) to play a supporting role on The Fall.  Yes, it’s THAT good!  Almost all of supporting characters are  quite strong, and we learn something about each as the eps go on.  There is eager/brave Officer Harrington, partners McNally and Martin, and the (female) victims, among others. 

Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) takes a selfie.

As for that Fifty Shades guy, well, he’s a VERY fine actor, too (I was surprised to discover).  Jamie Dornan plays Paul Spector, loving family man by day, serial killer by night.  That’s NOT a spoiler- we know who the baddie is from the pilot ep!  Paul is a hubby, dad to two young kids (Olivia and Liam), and a bereavement counselor working w/ the government.  The viewer sees two sides of the story- very unusual in cop shows (Law & Order: Criminal Intent did that a bit).  Paul truly lives two lives, fooling people closest to him while carrying no guilt.  At one point, I was reminded of the monologues that Shakespeare wrote for his more compelling villains- Edmund, Iago, etc.  Those speeches (directed to the audience) makes viewers into (unwilling) co-conspirators.   

“Garrow’s Law” (Series 1)

Who’d have thought late 18th century London (just a few years after our American Revolution) would be such an exciting setting for a courtroom drama!?  The cases you see on this TV show are based on real cases of the Georgian era.  The protagonist is a confidant, intelligent, and passionate young man  ahead of his time.  He doesn’t just want to practice the law- he wants to change it (as the system is rigged heavily against defendants).  Hmmm… sounds a bit like the young John Adams!

All lawyers aren’t bad- LOL!  William Garrow, the son of a humble headmaster (principal), didn’t go to Oxford.  He learned at his father’s school, then studied with a mentor (a solicitor) in Billingsgate.  Being ambitious and energetic, he eventually pushed aside paperwork (writing briefs) and became a barrister.  He tried his first case at age 23- unthinkable in our time!  Garrow is the one credited w/ the the phrase “innocent until proven guilty.”  He didn’t play it safe, even in his personal life.

Garrow (Andrew Buchan, who had supporting roles in the newest Jane Eyre and Cranford) is an eager hothead when we first meet him.  His mentor, Mr. Southouse (musical theater and TV veteran Alun Armstrong), cautions him against speaking too boldy in court and losing the sympathy of the (very powerful) judges.  Garrow wants to address the jury, and does on several occasions, though this is frowned upon.



MP Sir Arthur Hill (Rupert Graves, most recently seen in Sherlock), is impressed by Garrow’s performance in court.  His beautiful, well-read, and opinionated wife, Lady Sarah (Lyndsey Marshal from Rome) is also impressed.  However, at their dinner party, we quickly learn that Garrow’s politics are quite different from Sir Arthur’s.


Lady Sarah admires Garrow’s strong convictions (in line with many of her own forward-thinking ideals).  She often observes trials, sitting beside the judge and other notable people.  Lady Sarah even pays for Garrow to help a poor young servant.  Their mutual respect and admiration eventually grows into more (you’ll have to see).  Also, politics and his ambition create a big distance between Arthur and Sarah.

The dialogue on this show is very well-written!  (It sounds fresh, though it’s not modern.)  The production value is very high.  The sets, costumes, and music are all perfect for the period.  Buchan even looks boyishly handsome in a powdered white wig, black robe, and chunky heeled shoes.

Buchan played clergyman St. John Rivers, Jane’s buttoned-up (and very emotionally repressed) cousin/suitor, in the 2006 BBC version of Jane Eyre.

In Cranford and Return to Cranford, Buchan played carpenter/family man Jem Hearne.

NOTE: Do NOT read further unless you want to know details from S1 eps.

Episode 1


You will learn that the law is not a game for gentleman. -Garrow to Silvester (an Oxford-educated prosecutor)

Garrow has been buried in paperwork, but gets a case at the Old Bailey in Ep 1. Everything was rigged against the defendant, as Southouse explains after giving Garrow the brief the night before the trial. He can’t visit his client in jail. He won’t be given a copy of the indictment. He won’t get to hear re: the evidence the prosecution has against his client. (Yikes, we’ve come a LONG way!)

The prisoner in the dark has too long been left to rot for want of counsel. -Garrow says to Sir Arthur Hill, a minister at Parliament

You lack manners. You were too angry and you lost control. -Southouse says to a disenchanted Garrow after his loss


The second case Garrow gets is thanks to Lady Sarah, who insists that her involvement be kept a secret, b/c it’d be like “an infidelity” in the eyes of her more conservative husband. A young unmarried washerwoman, Elizabeth Jarvis, has been accused of “infanticide” (though she insists her baby was stillborn). Garrow and Lady Sarah interview the defendant in Newgate Prison (VERY unusual), then have an independent doctor (“surgeon”) examine Elizabeth, then the body of her deceased child.

How can it be an improvement in my court where I play a lesser part? -Judge Bullard says (bemused) to Lady Sarah during lunch break from court

Episode 2


By now, Garrow has some claim to fame, and he likes getting the approval (since his parents are deceased). He (hesitantly) takes on the VERY unpopular case of a young man accused of cutting beautiful young gentlewomen in broad daylight. The defendant’s doting mother insists her son could never do such things, though he loves drinking, pros, and runs through money. The media refers to him as “The Monster,” and in time, so do the public. BUT just b/c a defendant is unlikeable doesn’t mean he’s guilty!

Episode 3


This ep focuses a BIT more on Garrow’s petsonal life; we see that he has more to learn still (though in court, he has a way w/ juries). When he thinks Silvester insulted Lady Sarah (who Garrow is in love w/), he challenges his nemesis to a duel. Mr. Southouse is bewildered, thinking Garrow is crazy and needs to bow out. But Garrow’s hot-headed/stubborn side wins over!

The main case Garrow handles is that of a noted “thief-taker” (bounty hunter to us modern folk) who could be using less clever/scared thieves to commit bigger crimes for his gain.

Episode 4

We are of like minds, you and I. -Garrow says to Lady Sarah

Sir Arthur tells Garrow his good news, which could mean that Lady Sarah could be lost to him forever. She insists that she won’t leave her husband.

The crux of this ep centers on the case of a businessman/husband/father to 3 young children, Joseph Hamer. He has been imprisoned in Newgate for 3 mos. ONLY for gathering w/ those who think like him and exercising free speech. His wife, Mary, impresses Southouse and Garrow w/ her convinction and strength; she wants the BEST defense for the man she loves. There has been NO charge (reminds one of Guantanamo cases) yet, BUT Garrow will take the case.

Your case, Joseph, is played out in the shadow of the guillotine. They [the aristocracy] fear you. -Garrow puts things into context when he meets his defendant

Late one night, Joseph is dragged from his cell to a meeting w/ ministers of Parliament (incl. Sir Arthur). They grill the humble shoemaker w/ questions, BUT he asks for actual charges. Lady Sarah wonders what’s all the noise-the jailers and heavy shackles disturbed her quiet. She meets Joseph in the hall, and realizes that her husband MAY be on the wrong side of justice. Finally, Joseph gets his day in court, BUT the charge is “high treason” (so he could be hanged)!