Let’s talk about David Tennant, and let’s talk about American drama.
I first saw Mr. Tennant on stage at the Royal Court Upstairs in a production of PUSH UP in 2001. It was a small play in a big theatre (though spatially tiny) about grasping upwards at corporate promotions. How prescient. Tennant played a young executive working on an ad campaign to be shot in New York. The play was mediocre. Tennant was dynamite.
It wasn’t until 2005, at the Royal Lyceum Edinburgh performance of the Bush Theatre’s Look Back In Anger that I realized the actor I’d seen at that tiny upstairs theatre was about to blow up: ready to take a part in the BBC’s Casanova; and shortly thereafter? Doctor Who.
Look Back in Anger was the kind of theater piece a critic hungers after, and reviewing it, I wrote, “what the actors bring to the story simply elevates the [written] play to a whole new level of intensity.” (British Theatre Guide).
In this production, Tennant and Kelly Reilly were incendiary, electric. They were an example to writers of what kind of passion could be set ablaze on stage, and how much trust one could place in theatrical performers when it came to representing one’s vision. I learned a lot from them.
Subsequently, Tennant was given command of the TARDIS, and post-Who, he’s appeared in a number of British dramas.
While I may be fannishly biased, I think it’s fair to say Tennant is the sort of actor one delights in watching. He can bewitch (Harry Potter IV’s Barty Crouch), chew scenery (St. Trinian’s 2, Fright Night), lend gravitas (The Escape Artist), play the male romcom lead (The Decoy Bride, opposite Trainspotting legend Kelly MacDonald), or be personally and politically despicable (The Politician’s Husband). One endearing turn even saw him playing a primary school teacher with Daddy issues.
In short, Tennant inhabits various roles as easily as some of us inhabit the rooms of our houses. But one of the biggest successes he’s had since leaving the TARDIS behind has been, (well, arguably) his role in the ITV series Broadchurch.
Click below to see what I mean
Broadchurch, for those who don’t follow British drama (and don’t have the time to watch the above clip, which – are you sure you don’t have time to watch the above clip?), is the story of a small seaside town and the murder that rocks it. Tennant plays Detective Inspector Alec Hardy, with Olivia Coleman as his somewhat-disgruntled second.
Broadchurch‘s first season (ITV’s second is upcoming) focused on the murder of a young boy, and how the community he was a part of subsequently tore itself apart. By the time you reach the final episode and the series’ denoument, it hardly matters who the killer is. Everyone (including Steven-Moffat-Era-Doctor Who’s Arthur Darvill) has something to hide, and everybody loses in the end.
Last year, it was announced that an American version of Broadchurch was being filmed. Fans were hesitant. The original was so tightly-wound, what could be gained from remaking it, from rebroadcasting ITV’s nation-wide hit? It emerged that Tennant would be recreating his role as Hardy; would new layers be added to the story?
Welcome to 2014. FOX’s trailer has arrived – the new series is called Gracepoint, and co-stars the fantastic Anna Gunn (previously seen on Breaking Bad as Walter White’s beleaguered wife Skylar). Shot-for-shot, the trailer makes it look like not a lot has been altered (aside from Mr. Tennant’s accent, which is no longer Scottish, more’s the pity) in the remake, and maybe that’s as it should be: after all, Broadchurch was a masterclass in whodunnits, though looking back there were plenty of folks who coulda dunnit when it comes to Broadchurch’s final crime. Will Gracepoint follow the lead set by its British predecessor? Will they choose a new villain, or even new shots, somewhere along the line?
With Broadchurch set to hit its second season on ITV, and should American audiences respond as well as British ones, will FOX find a graceful way for Mr. Tennant to leave the show (thereby making way for the woman who played one of the most hated wives in television to take over the spotlight), or are we watching the beginnings of an intercontinental balancing act?
While I’d love — and still hope — to be able to say that fans win either way, the truth is my heart lies in hearing more of Tennant’s Scottish accent rather than in the plot of this modern mystery masterpiece. Making television and film concepts “accessible” to American audiences through the changing of settings and accents, or through the amping up of romantic storylines (sending up a Hail Mary, right now, in hopes that there’s no such storyline change between the two lead characters in this production) is a concept both belittling and isolationist. Why can’t Americans be expected to appreciate the artistic contributions of other countries without those contributions being made “more palatable”? In this interconnected digital age, is there a reason Americans can’t follow and enjoy a British television series (that was gripping, heart-pounding and – given its subject matter – a little sickening) without its being repackaged? We don’t seem to have a problem with Downton Abbey, after all.
While locovore tendencies are admirable in terms of organic matter, carbon footprint and personal nutrition, when it comes to a television diet, one can afford to range further afield. Americans should be happy and excited to digest quality entertainment nutrients from other cultures and countries, and while I’m thrilled that both Mr. Tennant and Ms. Gunn are drawing paychecks from my countrymen’s willful ignorance, a rather substantial part of me wishes that we weren’t more or less re-dubbing a taut, attuned thriller for the sake of network execs too afraid to trust us with those ever-so-complicated Motherland accents, or unwilling to commission new, unproven series.
That said, I’ll do my best to watch Gracepoint – if only because its two leads are actors more than worthy of drawing compensation from FOX, and because after so many years, I trust Mr. Tennant to bring something new (and thrilling) to his new interpretation of this role.
Allonsy, after all.
(Edit: An earlier version of this blog had me citing Olivia Coleman as the wardrobe mistress from “Ugly Betty.” As Chayna pointed out in the comments, below, I accidentally confused Coleman with Ashley Jensen, who has also appeared in several projects alongside David Tennant. In my defense, I watched both series quite recently. 😉 Thanks, Chayna, for pointing out the error!)
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