I liked Season 1 of Broadchurch better than Season 2 of Broadchurch. Switching between two plots was clever but made the show less unified. It was also darker.
The second season brings in three new lawyer characters as well as two characters from D.I. Hardy’s previous, unresolved case. Two of the three lawyer characters are urban outsiders, and despairingly cynical, pragmatic, and detached in their approach to the law and in their manner of dealing with people generally. The two characters involved in the other case belonged in another town and didn’t know anyone. In contrast, all the characters in the first season, apart from (the big-city journalist and) the tortured soul D.I. Hardy himself, were locals with skin in the game, and that game was the only game in town.
The dual nature of the second season is in fact reflected quite well on the DVD cover, where you can see a photo of the dramatic beach cliffs imposed on a photo of the two main characters in the woods. The DVD cover for the first season just had the two of them standing on the beach itself.
Part of what made the second show darker was just the yuckier nature of the Sandbrook crime, but I think I liked the second season less mostly because it was thematically darker. I think it’s common for sequels to have to be. In the first story, the readers or viewers are introduced to the characters and the world they live in, and the main character starts from a position of relative weakness and overcomes obstacles until finally he or she winds up in a position of relative strength. As an encore, what else can you do but rip that character apart? You often have to destroy that first victory to create a new challenge. The character has to start at square one again, except that it can’t be exactly the same starting point—that would be tedious—so you’ve got to make the starting point a worse one than before. The character then has to scramble, not to succeed on some externally directed quest but to defend his or her very life, outlook, or core principles. The goal is not to triumph but merely to survive. I think that such stories, while they may be ‘deeper’, are harder to write and harder to enjoy. Beginnings are (relatively) easy.
Next year when Season 3 of Broadchurch airs, we’ll see how they do with endings, which are also pretty tricky.