The Bay episode 1 review: an involving coastal crime mystery

Spoilers ahead in our review of ITV crime drama The Bay, starring the ace Morven Christie. (And yes, it is a bit like Broadchurch)…

Morven Christie in The Bay
Photo: ITV

This review contains spoilers.

A dead boy on the beach. A grumpy detective. An ethereal theme song. A community vibrating with suspicion. Scenes set against a backdrop of beautifully bleak British coastline…

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: The Bay and Broadchurch are kissing cousins. Not just kissing. They share a toothbrush. Perhaps more. They’re close, is what I’m saying. The kind of cousins a medical geneticist might urge to undergo voluntary sterilisation.

All crime dramas are, of course, related by blood. West Country-set Broadchurch had its own ancestry in Swedish gloom (coining the ‘Scandi-ooh-arr’ subgenre). Similarities are to be expected, welcomed even. Those there at the time will remember that Broadchurch series one caused tremendous fun/distress for viewers. The theories! The wind-whipped clifftop conversations! The 99s and screeching seagulls! If The Bay can provide half that much entertainment/pain it will be a total joy/bummer to follow. After all, it’s not as though the UK is short on coastline; there’s enough room for as many corpses to wash up as TV cares to dump in the sea.

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There are differences here too, as well as similarities. The accents are Lancashire not Dorset; the dead boy is Dylan, 15 not Danny, 11; his twin sister Holly is still missing; and the down-to-earth local detective is Morven Christie rather than Olivia Colman (not anagrams of each other. I checked).

Christie plays DS Lisa Armstrong, whom we meet in her glad rags rather than her police lanyard. A night of booze, Katrina and the Waves, and having it off with a stranger in an alley awaits. It’s a savvy character introduction by writer Daragh Carville, one that makes Armstrong relatable (a hangover being the greatest accessory with which a lead character can win over a British audience. See also: Killing Eve) and immerses us in her domestic life without any need for cumbersome exposition. In under a minute, we understand that she’s single, lives with her mother and two teenagers, and judging by the look on her daughter’s face when she sees the hot pink dress her mum’s wearing for the night out, all is not peaceful.

The night out on the tiles also provides a major plot-point. By the first ad break, Lisa has learned that the stranger she shagged outside the pub last night, fisherman Shaun (Jonas Armstrong), is the married step-father of the two missing teenagers on whose case she’s been deployed as family liaison officer. Hashtag awks, one might say, if one were truly awful.

The awkwardness increases in episode one, which ends with Armstrong arresting Shaun on suspicion of son Dylan’s murder. Being fingered so early on in a six-part series would ordinarily point to Shaun’s eventual innocence being proven, but The Bay could be employing a complex countergambit to take us round the houses. In a TV landscape so saturated with crime drama, pre-empting and being surprised by the chess moves of each is most of the fun.

Shaun certainly looks suspicious at this point. Despite he and wife Jess (This Is England’s Chanel Cresswell) declaring their family a happy one, it’s soon obvious that the Merediths are anything but. He had a fractious relationship with Dylan in which Social Services were involved, and refuses to account for his whereabouts an hour after the twins were last seen “Don’t flatter yourself,” Armstrong tells him. “I was with you ten minutes”.

Ten minutes that she keeps to herself, almost certainly unwisely. Deleting the CCTV of her and Shaun meeting at a bar is the first step in a cover-up sure to blow up in Armstrong’s face. Rookie sidekick DC Med Kharim (Taheen Modak) already seems to have made the connection between his unwilling mentor being a “karaoke queen” and the chief suspect’s movements on the night of the disappearance. I like Rookie Med. And I suspect DI Manning (Daniel Ryan), but possibly only because he did it in the last ITV crime drama I saw.   

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Add to this tangle Armstrong’s wayward daughter and a son engaged in something mysterious with an online ‘friend’ and The Bay has already provided us with a thick layer of mystery to slice through.

Proceedings are off to a good start then, with intrigue, coastal beauty, a solid cast and the quite genius move of making the victims twins, enabling crime drama fans to have our corpse cake and eat it. Two children – one dead and one missing gives us tragedy and the prospect of an against-the-clock rescue. Double bubble!

The Bay returns next Wednesday at 9pm on ITV. Read our breakdown of the potential suspects so far here.