Based on the 2011 Scandinavian TV series of the same name, FX’s latest drama, The Bridge, has become a critical hit while steadily pulling in ratings near the two million viewer mark. And for good reason: with Southland gone, it’s easily the best new procedural on television. Warning: Mild Spoilers Ahead.
If you’ve yet to check out this series, here’s a quick primer: A body is discovered, half lying on the El Paso, Texas side of the border and half on the Juárez, Mexico side. The show follows two detectives – Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) of the El Paso Police Department and Marco Ruiz (Demián Bichir), a Mexican homicide detective – as they search for the killer.
Add to the mix a shady reporter played by Matthew Lillard, a wealthy widow named Charlotte Millwright (Annabeth Gish), whose ranch hides her former husband’s secrets, and Ted Levine as El Paso Lieutenant Hank Wade. Add in fantastic supporting work from actresses Emily Rios and Catalina Sandino Moreno and you’ve got one of the most interesting, narratively-rich dramas on television today.
While that synopsis makes The Bridge seem like just another police procedural, its anything but your typical cop show. In fact, we’re inclined to call the series an anti-procedural, as it takes most of those tropes and flips them upside down in a serialized and engaging way that trumps viewer expectations every week.
So far, at least, there’s hardly anything episodic about The Bridge. Each week has built upon the last in an enriching way thats expanded the scope of its characters while advancing the plot (though, at times, somewhat glacially).
Instead of showing Bichir’s Marco Ruiz sleeping with wealthy widow Charlotte Millwright, for example, we learn that through a wallet left behind at Millwright home (and given to Bichir’s new partner, Kruger’s Sonya Cross). It’s a clever little trick that speaks volumes about a show uninterested in hitting its audience over the head with plot details, unnecessary salacious moments, and red herrings. This is a program that trusts solid storytelling, exceptional acting and, most importantly, the intelligence of its viewers.
If there’s one thing keeping The Bridge from being at the very top of our DVR, it’s Kruger’s portrayal of Sonya Cross. It’s not her fault – she’s actually knocking it out of the park as the seemingly emotionless detective, and June Thomas at Slate.com does a great job defending the actress against the backlash she’s received for her unsympathetic portrayal. In a show that’s concerned with dualities everywhere, Kruger’s by-the-numbers Cross is the yin to Bichir’s sympathetic, see-what-sticks yang – but the situation is a bit more complicated than that.
Just as is the case with the original Danish/Swedish series, its almost universally accepted that Cross has Asperger syndrome, which contributes to her trouble relating to people, her emotionless affectation and her penchant for complete and utter bluntness in social situations. The problem, however, is that most viewers have zero clue that Kruger’s character is dealing with an Autism-related disorder.
As Joel Keller writes on Parade.com, this is the case for characters on other shows, too, including Abed Nadir on Community and Spencer Reid on Criminal Minds (though its been alluded to there). It’s a big difference from the way Max Braverman’s character is handled on Parenthood, for example, where storylines focus on his ability to live with high-functioning autism. But as The Bridge is all about upending viewer expectations, we’re somewhat conflicted, as the situation has become part of the show’s intelligence and watchability.
We’re not sure how the rest of the season is going to play out for Bichir, Kruger and the rest of the cast, but it’s off to a hell of a start, and we’re along for the ride. The setting along the Mexican-American border – rife with its real-world implications – the richly painted characters and the clever scripts are enough to keep us glued to the TV for the rest of the season.