Wow. It's been a long time since a show I loved so much in the first season took this big a nosedive in its sophomore effort, but I guess not every good show can hit it out of the park twice. Thankfully, the fault here lies not with the actors or even the characters, but purely in the plot itself, which was a huge misfire from the very start. All the show needed was a decent second season mystery, and the one they went with was such a sloppy mess that I can't imagine it being repeated for Season 3, so for that reason, I'll still be back next year. The cast is so terrific that they even made this bad storyline watchable, but only in a glorious mess kind of way, which is the opposite of what the show was in its first efficient, tightly written season.
So, what went wrong here exactly? Well, it's tempting to say everything and toss the season out, but let's just go ahead and explain the most obvious blunder. Our two leads, detectives Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller are back, again played by the invaluable David Tennant and Olivia Williams, and their chemistry and rapport once again carries the series, as you could quite easily watch these two bicker and playfully needle each over every little detail for hours, from the way she drives to his heart attack and how they're forced to spend the night in the same bed on the road...anything they do and say to each other is gold and a show of them doing nothing but hanging out would in fact have made for a much better season than what we actually got. Which was them coming together to solve a cold case murder that originally brought Hardy to Broadchurch in the first place, and boy what a dud this mystery turned out to be. It involves two disappeared girls and a Bonnie and Clyde-esque couple who may or may not have been involved (played thanklessly by James D'Arcy and Eve Myles), and by the time the whole story finally reveals itself it makes literally no sense, the actions of everyone involved are mystifying, and what's worse is that you still don't even care about it to begin with. The stakes don't seem very high for the characters we do know, who are only Hardy and Miller, and there is so little emotional investment in the saga of Claire Ripley and her husband Lee Ashworth that whenever this storyline rears its ugly head, it has you begging to get back the B-plot of the season, which is really amazing because that one was arguably worse.
What the main murder mystery lacked in intrigue, the secondary story made up for in irrelevance, but at least it involved the characters from the first season that we're familiar with. Yes, the season long subplot this time around was the murder trial of Joe Miller, which pitted attorneys Sharon Bishop (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and Jocelyn Knight (Charlotte Rampling) against each other in the courtroom as they rehashed literally everything from last year that we already saw play out onscreen. Joe Miller pleads not guilty even after confessing to the crime, so that subjects us to a literal re-telling from every character as they get into the witness box to spell out what happened to them last year. Which, again, are things we already saw. I'm sorry, but how did anyone not see the blatantly obvious problem with this situation? You may have noticed the names of those veteran actresses who play the lawyers, and yes, they are fantastic in these roles and watching them go at each other is the definitive highlight of what was going on here, but again, the actual content of this trial? We already saw this play out. We know what happened- what's the point of going through it all over again, bit by bit? With zero new information revealed? The ultimate verdict is patently ridiculous, but once again, the cast comes to the rescue, as the Latimer family brings the goods with the devastation they have felt over what Danny Latimer's murder has done to them (Jodie Whittaker is MVP once more as the mournful but ferocious mom Beth), but all the time wasted on verbally telling a story the entire audience already saw was a major misstep to build a season around.
So, the bright spots here lie with the actors- Hardy and Miller's relationship is the only thing that makes the murder case bearable, and Baptiste and Rampling as the battling attorneys lend some performance value to the endless trial, but both the case and the trial were awful ideas to write a show for to begin with. There's going to be a third season, and the truth is I love and adore these characters too much not to follow them back to Broadchurch again, and now that both storylines are over, I'm hoping that the new case can be something worth spending time on, because the first season was so compelling on every level, that it's hard to believe an original concept that was at first so well written and structured could falter this badly. But I guess everyone has a couple of doozies in them, right? Broadchurch Season 2 was Chris Chibnall's.