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How 'Broadchurch' stands out from crowd of British cop dramas

Creator Chris Chibnall takes a long view of crime in the British hit, which returns for a final season on BBC America on Wednesday.

David Tennant and Olivia Colman star in “Broadchurch,” which  begins its final season on BBC America at 10 p.m. Wednesday.
David Tennant and Olivia Colman star in “Broadchurch,” which begins its final season on BBC America at 10 p.m. Wednesday.Read morePATRICK REDMOND/Courtesy BBC America

Windswept vistas,  detectives haunted by their pasts, a tight-knit community torn apart by a particularly ugly crime: If you've seen one British detective series, you've seen them all, right?

Maybe not.

Broadchurch, which returns to BBC America at 10 p.m. Wednesday for its third and final eight-episode season, ticks all the Brit drama boxes and still manages to stand out from the mysteries some of us can't get enough of. I'm hard-core enough to have recently added an accent-centric Acorn subscription to my streaming options (I'm two episodes in to the so-far intriguing Loch Ness), and I still think Broadchurch is special.

Here's why:

  1. It takes a long view of  crime. Broadchurch, a seaside town that in the first season was rocked by the killing of 11-year-old Danny Latimer (Oskar McNamara), isn't a place likely to be overrun with murderers. This season, which takes place three years after the events of the previous one, Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and Detective Sgt. Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) are investigating a sexual assault, not a killing, and they're all-in. The town hasn't forgotten Danny, and neither has the show, which continues to deal with the consequences of his death. His estranged parents, Beth (Jodie Whittaker) and Mark (Andrew Buchan), have taken their grief in different directions, Beth looking to help others, Mark still looking to undo the events of Season Two. (If I sound vague, it's because the first two seasons are available on Netflix, and I don't want to spoil them.)

  2. Its treatment of rape, which in this case involves a middle-age victim, Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh, Happy Valley), conveys the horror of the attack and its aftermath as well as anything I've seen on television.

  3. It's always been a showcase for character actors, and Hesmondhalgh's performance is no exception.

  4. It's interested in female friendships, their strengths and their stress points. After Trish is attacked during a birthday bash for her best friend, Cath (Sarah Parish),  their relationship reminded me of how much  Ellie and Beth have been through over three seasons.

  5. Its detectives aren't always the best — Hardy, in particular, strikes me as off his game at times this season — but each is the best partner the other will ever have.

  6. Its magic can't easily be replicated, as Fox discovered when it imported Tennant (but not Colman) to star in a U.S. version, Gracepoint.

  7. It has a clear-eyed understanding of what economic pressures are doing to local journalism. Newspaper editor Maggie Radcliffe (Carolyn Pickles) is fighting a losing battle this season, but at least she's fighting.

  8. It knows when to call it quits. Chris Chibnall, who will be overseeing the next season of Doctor Who, could have been forgiven for holding out hope for more seasons of the show, which has been a hit in Britain, but he's not. The show is "absolutely" not coming back, he's said, and I choose to believe him. Because one town should have to suffer only so much.

Read more: Olivia Colman on British  fans going "nuts" over Broadchurch mystery