Heading the investigation are Alec Hardy, an outsider with a scandal around a similar case plaguing him, and Ellie Miller, recently back from leave only to discover that this wanker has taken her promotion. She, like most of the town, knows the family, which makes it hard to separate the personal and professional. It's a volatile partnership, as Hardy doesn't know anyone and so treats the case as any other, whereas Miller always keeps the town and townspeople—her HOME—in mind. Plus Hardy is kind of a dick, though he's only a dick because he really wants to solve the case, it's all he has in life, especially after failing a previous family. He won't fail the Latimers. Keeping an eye on him are the local preacher and the local press, however.
Given that the show is named after the town, you'd think the SETTING was a CHARACTER, and sure, it kind of is. I love how much the show focuses on the townspeople's reactions and the difficulty of keeping a secret in a small town...that has so many secrets. This murder investigation threatens to expose a lot of people's secrets, which is great since it means more people have motive. But it's not all bad: we also get to see how the town supports the Latimer family in their time of need, even if it's not necessarily how or what they want. Each member of the family deals with the loss of Danny Latimer in a different way, showing how complex grief can be.
With only eight episodes, Broadchurch delivers a well paced mystery, even though it does tend to fall into typical rhythms like "All the clues are pointing to THIS suspect...oh wait, it's not him, now all the clues are pointing to THIS suspect...oh wait, it's not him...now all the clues..." Like, come on, show, we know the guy you arrest like three episodes in is not actually the murderer...OR IS HE. It throws in a hefty dose of red herrings (some of which are never addressed?), but the final resolution packs a huge punch. It's excellently done, and you can see how nicely it was set up, red herrings and all.
The first season functions as a satisfying miniseries, and it's clear Chris Chibnall hadn't intended to do a second season. But he did! And it's a precipitous drop in quality, thanks to ludicrous courtroom drama, but it also has a pretty good mystery plot, so it's not a complete disaster. The third season, however, redeems the show entirely, as it follows a sexual assault investigation with maturity, nuance, and empathy.
Overall, Broadchurch stands out among police procedurals thanks to its evocative, powerful mood enhanced by cinematography and score, generally sharp writing, and strong relationship between David Tennant and Olivia Colman, who always play off each other wonderfully, even in the subpar second season. Plus, it's a show with three Doctors and a Companion!