I’ve been a television critic for a long time – quick, find an orchestra to start playing My Way! – and I’ve seen too many dramas to mention. Probably the number of dramas I’ve seen can circle the world twice, or is the equivalent of 28 Nelson’s Columns – isn’t that how everything is measured?
Anyway, if I have learnt anything, it’s that the only sure-fire, lead-lined, copper-bottomed way of telling whether anything is good or not is (pause while the orchestra segues into Everybody Hurts by REM) if I care about the characters after they’ve left my screen.
I don’t mean the actual actors, but the actual characters. This, for me, resolves itself into worrying about entirely fictional men and women long after they’ve disappeared, people who I feel live a life elsewhere. Over the years I’ve fretted about Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison (did she conquer her drink problem, is she happy?), Dr Frasier Crane (what’s he doing now, I wonder), Chandler from Friends (divorced from Monica, I hope, I never liked her), Cathy from Cathy Come Home (who can ever forget seeing her children wrenched from her grasp?)…
More recently I’ve been terribly anxious about Sergeant Catherine Cawood from Happy Valley and am willing series two to hurry up so I can check on her progress. And what of ill-used detective Lindsay Denton from Line of Duty? How is she coping?
Even more recently, in fact right now, I care about Broadchurch’s cops Ellie Miller and Alec Hardy (Olivia Colman and David Tennant), and bereaved parents Mark and Beth Latimer (Andrew Buchan and Jodie Whittaker). The second series has been pummelled for its not-by-the-rules courtroom scenes and, frankly, I’d be cross, too, if this was all that was going on.
But it’s not. Broadchurch has always been about its characters, which is why it worked the first time and why it’s worked, for me anyway, on its return. I can get over the outrageous assertions of the barrister of accused killer Joe Miller, things she’d never be allowed to say in a real court (she wouldn’t be allowed to point the finger at an alternative “culprit” with impunity).
Why? Because I cherish the friendship between Miller and Hardy, which has grown in a wholly realistic way during this series. Particularly I love their brusque, flinty feelings for one another (most certainly not romantic, despite that poisonous barrister’s claims). It’s not something you see that often in dramas; characters fall in love, but they tend not to fall into friendship.
One of my favourite scenes was a little throwaway thing in the first episode when an angry, tearful Ellie took refuge in the ladies’ loos, pursued by Hardy. As she stormed out she tripped over a cleaner’s sign. “Did you put that there?” she rages at him, totally unreasonably, but totally believably. We’ve said such silly things to people of whom we are fond, but exasperated.
I also like the way she thumps him when he is being emotionally dense, or fires her displeasure at him with both barrels before stomping off. Yet, despite all of this, you know that they are close and have come to depemd upon one another as they set about solving what’s become known as the Sandbrook case. Which, incidentally, is much more absorbing than anything going on in court.
A second series of anything huge will always suffer in comparison with its parent. It’s second album syndrome, only with TV drama, and any sequel inevitably positions itself for a kicking. An early, unwise press campaign that amounted to a lockdown on all plot details didn’t help. No one wants to spoil anything but everyone loves a teaser and when the omerta descended, critics’ backs went up.
Yet, despite all of this, Broadchurch scores where it matters, with our emotions. I’ll miss Ellie and Alec. And worry about them, of course.
Alison Graham is Radio Times’ TV Editor
Broadchurch concludes on ITV tonight