July 11, 2013



THE BRIDGE:  Wednesday 10PM on FX – DVR Alert

FX has assumed a leadership role in the development of serious, ambitious TV drama over the past decade (The Shield, Rescue Me, The Americans), and with its new series THE BRIDGE, it takes on its largest canvas to date.  The Bridge, which is based on an unusually fertile Danish/Swedish series (it will also soon birth a British/French version), is a serial killer detective story with many similarities to other current or recent thrillers (particularly The Killing, another series adapted from a Danish original), but it seems to be aiming for a sociopolitical dimension that recalls The Wire, and that gives it the potential to push past most of its mates in the genre.

The premise is beautifully simple.  Our unknown killer has (during a carefully staged blackout) placed a body precisely in the center of the bridge connecting El Paso, Texas to Juarez, Mexico, thus initiating an investigation jointly controlled by both cities, in the persons of El Paso homicide detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) and her Juarez counterpart Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir).  It soon emerges that what was placed on the bridge wasn’t a single body at all, but rather halves of two women:  the top of a conservative Texas judge atop the legs of a Mexican prostitute.

It appears, based on a message delivered by the killer at the end of the pilot, that he’s making a statement about life and death in the two cities, as he notes that 5 women per year are killed in El Paso, while literally thousands die across the border (250 women per year, according to Ruiz, simply vanish and are known as the “women of Juarez,” their bodies found in “death-houses”).  The show emphasizes dichotomy at every turn.  North and Ruiz are as opposite as two humans can be:  he’s a warm-hearted, humorous family man who gives off a vibe of friendliness and natural empathy, while North–although the word isn’t used–appears to have something like Asperger’s, unable to make eye contact without conscious effort or to talk with any compassion to the husband of the dead judge.  Ruiz comes from a culture where corruption is taken for granted (off-duty cops guard the local Captain as he plays poker with cartel leaders), while North is unable to tolerate the slightest breach of regulations.  The murders in Juarez are barely investigated, even by Ruiz, while the judge’s killing in El Paso launches an instant task force.

Some of these contrasts are so clear that just pointing at them may seem ham-handed, and series creators/pilot writers Elwood Reid and Meredith Stiehm will have to tread lightly so as not to italicize their own subtext.  The Sonya character could also fall all too easily into caricature, and although the show makes it clear that her Lieutenant (Ted Levine) has shielded her from the consequences of her behavior over the years, there’s a scene toward the end of the pilot, where she insistently carries on an interrogation despite life-threatening circumstances, that may cross the line into near-comedy.  But Stiehm was responsible for some of the best episodes of Homeland that dealt with Carrie’s mental illness, so the storyline couldn’t be in more promising hands.  (Stiehm and Reid worked previously together on Cold Case, which she created.)  It helps that even in the pilot, Bichir and Kruger appear to have total control and understanding of their characters, giving commanding performances that already look worthy of Emmy consideration.

Much of the Bridge pilot is dedicated to setting up the central situation and the relationship between North and Ruiz, but some of the more interesting aspects occur around the edges.  The pilot is extremely assured, both in its pacing (despite the expanded 90-minute length) and way it establishes its twin settings on either side of the border (the direction is by the Mexican filmmaker Gerardo Naranjo, who made the problematic but highly-acclaimed Miss Baja).  The show also spreads its focus beyond the immediate case, as we follow an American widow (Annabeth Gish) who will presumably have a closer connection to the story than the fact that her husband was dying in an ambulance when traffic was held up on the bridge, as well as the alcoholic reporter (Matthew Lillard) who receives the killer’s message at the end of the pilot, and a mysterious man (Steven Linder) who may either be the murderer or a red herring.  So far, these additional stories appear much more compelling than the similar attempts during the first seasons of The Killing to move that show beyond its murder investigation.

As we all know from, among other misfires, The Killing, it’s a long way from a solid pilot to a satisfying series.  The Bridge has plenty of work ahead of it with its difficult protagonist, the need to wrap up its central mystery in a fitting way, and its larger ambitions.  At the moment, though, it’s moving in the right direction.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."