It's hard to import a European murder mystery without importing baggage along with it — expectations of a gray chill, of relentless and austere severity.
It's not that you won't see any of that in Broadchurch, the eight-part British drama that comes to BBC America beginning Wednesday night. It begins with a body found on a beach at the bottom of a wall of craggy cliffs. There are broken hearts, and there's a kind local cop (Olivia Colman), and there's a shipped-in city cop with a heavy heart and a sharp tongue who doesn't get along with anyone (David Tennant). You'd be forgiven for thinking it was going to be, in short, a drag.
And if it were a simple crime procedural, its close-up handling of such a devastating story might seem exploitative, like just another dead body in another quirky television town. But while there is a mystery here, and while they will solve it in these eight episodes, the solution to the murder mystery is not what the show is really about.
The show is about the town of Broadchurch, where the body is found, and about the way grief is so unwieldy and burdensome that it interrupts and interferes with every other emotion. Trust is upended, old wounds are opened (and others are healed), and relationships are threatened by the deeply human but totally wrongheaded tendency toward trying to negotiate the terms under which others manage pain.