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Review: 'Broadchurch' remake 'Gracepoint' is distractingly similar to original — until it's not

Fox's new show Gracepoint is a peculiar experiment.

The 10-part mystery series about a young boy who's found dead in a small coastal town is a remake of an outstanding British show called Broadchurch. But it's not just a remake. In many cases it's an exact replication of the original.

Both shows are centered on how the mysterious murder of Danny Solano tears apart such a tight-knit community, focusing on the two detectives (one is an outsider, the other is the mother of the boy's best friend) investigating the case. And certain scenes in Gracepoint are indistinguishable from their British counterpart, down to the same shots and verbatim dialogue. The setting is different, yes, but only because California town Gracepoint is in America and British town Broadchurch isn't. The visual look of both places is the same, down to what looks like practically the same set for the local newspaper. In the first few episodes, the only way to tell the two shows apart is that different actors are playing the characters.

Well, in most cases. The most deja vu inducing part of this new show is that Scottish actor David Tennant is reprising his role as a detective from the original. Except this time, he's doing it with an American accent. (And, inexplicably, a different name: He's Emmett Carver here instead of Alec Hardy, even though other characters have the same name.)

Broadchurch aired in Britain in March of 2013, then later in the States on BBC America in August of the same year. But Gracepoint's producers (which include Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall, who also gets a "created by" credit here) are clearly banking on the fact that hardly any Americans saw the original. That's probably true; BBC America doesn't draw huge (or even notable) audiences. But the original British version, a sensation that drew an average of 9 million viewers its entire run, is also just a click away for American audiences on platforms like Amazon. It's odd that, given the chance to explore a different setting, a different family, a different lead actor, Fox would make what appears to be such a blatant copy.

Well, until the end. The network made the first seven out of 10 episodes available to critics, and for the most part, all of the episodes contain some scenes taken directly from Broadchurch. (Around episode four, unique Gracepoint additions begin to pop up.) Then, in episode seven, things shift dramatically: Another traumatic event shakes up the town and takes Gracepoint in a new direction, potentially away from Danny's murder.

This new material might give Gracepoint what it needs to stand out — or it might be an example of messing with close-to-perfection. Either way, it makes Fox's drama a whole lot more interesting.

The other thing that makes it stand out: a stellar cast.

It's always good to see Tennant, who is again wonderfully wry and mysterious as headstrong lead detective Carver (though it's a shame he had to ditch his Scottish accent, which was half the fun of his original performance). Michael Pena and Virginia Kull are strong as Danny's parents, awash in grief and regret; Nick Nolte is heartbreaking behind his typical gruff demeanor and gravelly delivery; Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook) is convincing as a creep but needs more to do; and Kevin Rankin (Friday Night Lights; Breaking Bad) is superbly layered as the town priest. (That said: You don't hire a powerful yet nuanced actor like Rankin to play a one-note, mild-mannered character, so I'd bet he's heavily involved in the ending.) Unfortunately, Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) seems rather miscast as Carver's partner Ellie Miller, a role that requires a certain lightness and humor to balance Carver's heaviness. She gets better as the show goes on, a likely result of some livelier later material, but is an odd fit for the most part.

Gracepoint's producers have hinted the show will have a different ending than Broadchurch's, which was widely regarded as the best part of that show. And this is where it matters most that Gracepoint copies so much from its inspiration: How can the exact same scenes and storylines add up to a different ending?

Certainly, the developments in episode seven could pave an alternate course for the show. But if that was the end goal, why go down such a familiar path to begin with?

Michelle Stark can be reached at Follow @mstark17.