Broadchurch is what television dramas should be – all the time

"Layered, clever, nuanced, wrong-footing. I can’t hear a word against it," writes Alison Graham

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Whenever I tell a new acquaintance what I do for a living, I know what’s coming next: “How many hours of television do you watch every day?” And “Do you know lots of celebrities?”, ending with “So what do you recommend that’s really good at the moment?” 

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I want to admit to you all, right here, right now, that I dread all three of these questions because my answers are so dull that people’s faces drop when they realise how boring I actually am. I’m certain they expect me to swing from chandeliers with my showbiz friends while drinking Bollinger from glass slippers as Tom Hiddleston serenades me on a harp. If only. That person you see in the supermarket meticulously checking boxes for broken eggs? That’s me. That’s my showbiz life.

I can’t really say how much telly I watch every day, it varies: sometimes two hours, sometimes six. And as for “What’s good at the moment?”, which people often ask me in the lifts at work so I’m really hard-pressed to answer quickly. Apart from saying, “Read Radio Times, my every expressed thought is in there. Besides, I don’t give advice for free.”

But honestly? I can’t remember. My mind wipes most of what I see – believe me, with Prime Suspect 1973, that’s the greatest of blessings – to make room for the next batch of dramas about murdered prostitutes.

Yet, and this will come as a great relief to anyone coming along to the RT critics’ event at the BFI and RT Festival – at last I have an answer to that “What’s good?” question. Broadchurch! Broadchurch! Broadchurch!

I love it, it’s my Treat of the Week. It grips me from start to finish, it’s what television dramas should be, all the time. Layered, clever, nuanced, wrong-footing. I can’t hear a word against it. So people moaned on social media when Alec Hardy microwaved a cup of tea? Truly? With absolutely everything that goes on in every hour, that’s what you pick up on?

I loved series one of Broadchurch; I didn’t like series two, over which we must draw the thickest of veils. But series three is something else entirely, even better than series one. I love writer Chris Chibnall’s ability to pick apart the claustrophobia of a small town where everyone really does know everyone else’s business and secrets are hard to keep. It’s the crisscrossing of relationships that grip, those collisions between personalities that make life so fascinating. In its own, very different way it’s as astute as the BBC3 comedy This Country that I wrote about last week. Both are so good at homing in on the petty rivalries and boredom of life in a place where everyone knows your name.

Broadchurch is clever because every character matters, no one is wasted. Everyone has a part to play, which makes you watch even more closely. The downtrodden wife of the sinister taxi driver? Surely she knows more than she’s letting on? The fella who runs the country house where Trish Winterman was assaulted? Come on, he’s a bit posh, he definitely can’t be taken at face value.

Chibnall is great at writing female characters. I love Sarah Parish as brittle, disappointed Cath, whose 50th birthday party was the catalyst for so much evil. She has a terrific scene in Monday’s episode with Trish (Julie Hesmondhalgh), where her wounds and humiliation make her casually, devastatingly cruel.

It’s the last ever series and that’s as it should be. Broadchurch must leave us while it still glows. 

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Broadchurch continues tonight at 9pm on ITV