TV Review: FX Promises Dark Journey Across ‘The Bridge’

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CHICAGOFX’s “The Bridge” bears undeniable resemblance to other recent cable hits. The quirky-but-smart female lead will remind viewers of Claire Danes’ award-winning performance on Showtime’s “Homeland” while the mystery structure of the piece and the dense atmosphere are undeniably reminiscent of AMC’s “The Killing.” And international audiences will know it’s a loose remake of a Swedish show called “Bron.” Television Rating: 4.5/5.0
Television Rating: 4.5/5.0

While it may be tempting to write off the program as overly familiar, the premiere of what will almost surely be another hit for one of the most important networks on cable today contains so many of the elements missing from similar programs, elevated by two stellar performances and a sense of cinematic purpose that we should demand from more television. It unfolds like a great novel. Some chapters of the first three episodes that I’ve seen are less engaging than others but, taken as a whole, it’s a must-read.

The Bridge
The Bridge
Photo credit: FX

The lights go off on the bridge between Juarez and El Paso. When they flip on again, a body is found straddling the border between the countries. Well, make that two bodies. Before long, the area around the bridge has a serial killer on their hands. El Paso P.D. Officer Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) lays claim to the case first. She’s a difficult read given her Asperger’s but the focus given her by her condition has also made her quite an impressive detective. She may not be the best person to send to a loved one to inform him of his spouse’s death but she can quickly tell when someone is lying and cuts to the base of any predicament. She doesn’t do anything with purpose, doesn’t tell even white lies, and when she needs something, she takes it. There’s a beautiful simplicity to Sonya that makes her a fascinating character even if Kruger does overplay a few of her tics in these early episodes. It’s a part that I imagine she will settle into over time. By mid-season, she’ll be spectacular.

The Bridge
The Bridge
Photo credit: FX

Spectacular from minute one is the great Demian Bichir, an unexpected Oscar nominee for “A Better Life,” who stars as Sonya’s partner across the border, Chihuahua State Police Detective Marco Ruiz, a man who has seen more than his fair share of horror in one of the darkest corners of the world. Ruiz is more instinctual, as proven by the opening scene, in which Sonya refuses to let a man having a heart attack cross the bridge to get help because it might damage the crime scene. Marco lets him through and the show follows the soon-to-be widow, a woman named Charlotte (Annabeth Gish) who discovers that her husband was not who she thought he was and who gets tied back into that body on the bridge in unexpected ways.

In reality, Juarez is a violent, horrible place. Over the last several years, hundreds of women, most of them teenagers, have been found in the deserts around Juarez. What is happening to these girls? Why is the crime rate reached a peak where so many people are dying because of it? “The Bridge” uses this reality to craft its fiction. Just as “Homeland” uses an international situation to build its narrative, “The Bridge” works from the sad truths of life in a border town like Juarez and the way that dead Mexican girls don’t get the headlines or international attention that they deserve.

The Bridge
The Bridge
Photo credit: FX

The pilot of “The Bridge” was directed by Gerardo Naranjo, who helmed the highly acclaimed “Miss Bala,” and he brings a filmmaker’s touch to the show. I love the atmosphere of the premiere, the way it creates a tone through elements like lighting (the street lights, brake lights, and fluorescent lights of a police department) that so many other productions ignore. There’s a caliber of filmmaking here that’s undeniable. The writing doesn’t always match it — the second episode dips back into procedural cliches in ways that are slightly disappointing — but the cinematography, editing, score, etc. all bear the accomplished mark of what we’ve come to expect from film or HBO, certainly not basic cable.

The performances are similarly of a higher caliber than most of the competition. Kruger is fascinating, finding unique line readings and behaviorial tics that are a bit overplayed in episode one but already feel more of a character by episode three. Bichir is the all-star, injecting Ruiz with a world-weary kindness that so many other actors try to fake but that feels honest from him. He’s great. Gish, Ted Levine, Matthew Lillard, Thomas M. Wright, Catalina Sandina Moreno, and Emily Rios fill out a stellar supporting ensemble.

FX broke through with daring shows like “The Shield” and “Rescue Me” but appeared like they might go through a slight identity crisis when those shows finished their runs. With “Justified” remaining creatively vital, “Sons of Anarchy” continuing to build fans, and “The Americans” surprising viewers earlier this year, the network has actually raised its profile. And they may be premiering their best current show this week.

“The Bridge” stars Demian Bichir, Diane Kruger, Annabeth Gish, Ted Levine, Matthew Lillard, Thomas M. Wright, Catalina Sandino Moreno, and Emily Rios. It premieres on FX on Wednesday, July 10, 2013 at 9pm CST. content director Brian Tallerico

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