Saturday, November 09, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Bridge, season 1 (2013) ***

TV-MA, 13 47-min. episodes
Creators: Elwood Reid, Björn Stein, Meredith Stiehm

Directors: Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Alex Zakrzewski, Norberto Barba, S.J. Clarkson, John Dahl, Chris Fisher, Keith Gordon, Bill Johnson, Sergio-Mimica-Gezzan, Gerardo Naranjo, Charlotte Sieling

Writers: Hans Rosenfeld (creator original series “Bron”), Måns Marlind (creator original series “Bron”), Björn Stein (also creator original series “Bron”), Elwood Reid, Meredith Stiehm, Dario Scardapane, Fernanda Coppel, Patrick Somerville, Esta Spalding, Chris Gerolmo

Starring: Diane Kruger, Demian Bichir, Annabeth Gish, Thomas M. Wright, Ted Levine, Matthew Lillard, Johnny Dowers, Emily Rios, Eric Lange

Guest starring: Carlos Pratts, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Ramón Franco, Alejandro Patino, Diana Maria Riva, Alma Martinez, Brian Van Holt, Daniel Edward Mora, Stephanie Sigman, Juan Carlos Cantu, Larry Clarke, Don Swayze, Arturo del Puerto, Ellie Araiza, Karen Sours, Jon Gries, Lyle Lovett, Lee Garlington, Alex Fernandez, Chris Browning

“The Bridge” is far from a perfect show. It’s a police procedural that shows us the crime-laden world found at the U.S./Mexico border in El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Chihuahua. It begins with a murder scene staged halfway across the bridge that connects the two communities. It is the beginning of a series of killings that appear to be some sort of protest over the disparaging law enforcement qualities between the local U.S. and Mexican authorities. Juarez is known for it’s inordinate amount of young female disappearances each year, something that would never be allowed on the U.S. side of the border.

Like most television procedurals, the episodes depict an investigation of suspects that include the apparently obvious, the false leads and the one that’s sitting right under the authorities’ noses. Some of the weaknesses of the series include the fact that the writers telegraph their manipulation of the audience’s perception of events. The facts are too muddled and the twists are too obviously manipulated by the teleplay. Much of the investigation seems stretched out unnecessarily and there is one major subplot that is abandoned for a large duration of the show’s middle episodes only to resurface in the final two episodes after some of the characters involved have become a distant memory. The main storyline climaxes too early, leaving the final three episodes without much driving energy to them.

That being said, I found the show more compelling than most police procedurals because of its very interesting cast of characters. Diane Kruger plays the lead U.S. investigator, who like many of today’s great fictional detectives, appears to suffer from some socially debilitating disorder that makes her well equipped for observing details but a terrible people person. Kruger’s is one of the best portrayals of this type of character I’ve seen. Her awkwardness is funny but never betrays the seriousness of her nature or the severity of her occupation. Although it’s never identified as a disorder of any kind, hers is unique in that it is given an explanation of sorts.

Her partner is the equally troubled Mexican detective played by Oscar nominee Demian Bichir. Bichir adds a great deal of levity to the early episodes, while taking the brunt of the drama in the second half of the series. He handles his duties well, again never betraying his character, even with his shifting driving purposes. Ted Levine, who has played so many police captains since his star-making role on the other side of the law in “The Silence of the Lambs”, is Kruger’s boss and provides an anchoring force for the detectives.

I also very much enjoyed Matthew Lillard’s work as a substance abusing journalist, who gets pulled into the case early on when the killer rigs his car with a bomb to go public with his possibly politically motivated intentions. Shaggy is all grown up, and I grow increasingly more excited whenever I discover that Lillard is involved in a particular project. He’s so good at skirting that line of charming and disappointing as a person. I got the impression as his role evolved here that he was originally intended to have a much smaller role; but as it is impossible not to root for his lovable loser, I can see why they might’ve decided to increase his presence.

“The Bridge” is an adaptation of a Danish/Swedish television series that appears to follow the original fairly closely. I have trouble believing that the border relationship between those two countries is quite as volatile as that between ours and Mexico, and yet I suppose it must be so to support this series there as an original. Whatever its origins, the concept here seems tailor-made for the setting in El Paso and Juarez. The series will return next summer, and I’d like to return to it as well. With a little less transparency in the writing and a little structure work, this show has the potential to be one of the best over next summer’s television season.

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