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A child gone missing, eventually discovered dead. A small-town populace coming apart at the seams. A determined DCI, with plenty of her own personal problems, brought in to investigate. The particulars may be slightly different, but the broad strokes of the three-part ITV miniseries The Guilty closely resemble those of the popular crime drama Broadchurch. (Both series premiered in 2013 in the U.K.; PBS is airing The Guilty over three consecutive Sundays in what seems a conspicuous time filler.)
Broadchurch — in its first season, anyway — had the feel of a grand tragedy, ably abetted by David Tennant and Olivia Colman’s expert, emotionally raw performances. Scene by scene, The Guilty plays like a glum also-ran: The tough, troubled DCI this time out is Maggie Brand (Tamsin Grieg) who is tasked with heading a reopened case involving adorable tyke Callum Reid (Daniel Runacres-Grundstrom), whose corpse is discovered, steps from his family house, five years after he was presumed abducted.
AIR DATE Oct 25, 2015
Read more: ‘Broadchurch‘ Season 2: TV Review
Gold-tinged flashbacks to 2008, inelegantly interwoven with the grey and gloomy present-day scenes, detail Callum’s idyllic life while setting up a host of potential wrongdoers. Closest to home are Callum’s parents, Daniel (Darren Boyd) and Claire (Katherine Kelly, overdoing the maternal hysteria), whose marriage isn’t as picture-perfect as it seems. There’s also a semi-inept au pair (Madlen Meyer) with a submissive sexual fetish, and her controlling, horndog boyfriend (Theo Barklem-Biggs) who becomes the likeliest suspect. But what about the weird Catholic handyman (Christopher Fulford) who skulks around with “Pedophile!” practically tattooed on his face? And don’t rule out the statuesque next-door neighbor (Ruta Gedmintas) who seems strangely wary of the Reid family.
While all this is playing out, Brand is dealing with her own crises—a husband (Jamie Sives) increasingly frustrated by her long hours, and a young son (Tommy Potten) whose acting out in school is clear prelude to an autism diagnosis. Drama, drama everywhere! Would that any of it was genuinely compelling. Instead, the three episodes go morosely through the procedural motions as teleplay writer Debbie O’Malley and director Ed Bazalgette cast doubt in every direction.
You can’t say the cast isn’t committed in their attempts to put over the many false leads, one phony confession and a resolution so ridiculous it gives contrivance a bad name. Grieg and Boyd are especially good at acting like the weight of the world is on them at all times, and they have a strong scene together toward the end of the series when Brand confronts Daniel about a hunch that she can’t explicitly prove. Beyond that, there’s nothing to distinguish The Guilty from a middling installment of Law & Order (sure enough, O’Malley worked on the U.K. version of that crime TV stalwart). It’s hardly a mystery worth solving.
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