DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This summer cable TV networks have offered some dark, complicated serialized murder stories - "Dexter" on Showtime and "The Killing" on AMC. On Wednesday, the FX network adds another to the mix - "The Bridge" which, like "The Killing," is based on a Scandinavian television series. Our TV critic David Bianculli has this review.
DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: The FX version of the Scandinavian series "The Bridge," like the Showtime version of the Israeli TV series that inspired "Homeland," is a major revamp as well as a crucial relocation. With "Homeland," the focus became American politics and home-soil terrorism. With his new adaptation of "The Bridge," the setting is changed to the U.S.-Mexico border.
This allows executive producer Meredith Stiehm, a writer-producer from "Homeland," to deal with everything that relocation provides - including the white-hot issues of immigration reform and border security. "The Bridge" opens with a crime scene that couldn't be more symbolic, or more gruesome. An unknown killer has managed to place a body on a border bridge between Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas - so precisely on the border that half of the body is in each country.
That makes it, at first, a jurisdictional issue for the respective first responders: an El Paso police detective named Sonya Cross, and a Chihuahua state policeman named Marco Ruiz. Sonya is played by Diane Kruger, the German actress from "Inglourious Basterds." Marco is played by Demian Bichir, who played Mary-Louise Parker's Mexican husband in "Weeds," and was Oscar-nominated for his supporting role in "A Better Life."
In this early scene from the premiere, Sonya claims the on-the-border murder case, but within hours, she reaches out to Marco when a new development changes things. Oh, and Sonya, like Claire Danes' character in "Homeland," is doing her job while struggling with a disorder. In Sonya's case it's Aspergers, which explains her no-nonsense conversational approach when she calls Marco in the middle of the night.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BRIDGE")
DIANE KRUGER: (as Sonya) Is this Marco Ruiz?
DEMIAN BICHIR: (as Marco) Speaking. Yes.
KRUGER: (as Sonya) Sonya Cross, El Paso PD.
BICHIR: (as Marco) Hmm. The one in charge. I remember.
KRUGER: (as Sonya) Were you sleeping?
BICHIR: (as Marco) I do that at night. Yes.
KRUGER: (as Sonya) There were two women on the bridge.
BICHIR: (as Marco) You found another one?
KRUGER: (as Sonya) No. Two different bodies - a lower half and an upper half. Two different women. You find half a body in Juarez - Hispanic, late teens to twenty - you would have the other half.
BICHIR: (as Marco) Ouch.
KRUGER: (as Sonya) Something wrong?
BICHIR: (as Marco) No, no. I'm listening. Cut in half.
KRUGER: (as Sonya) Yes. Do you have a girl that matches this description?
BICHIR: (as Marco) Well, we have lots of bodies. We have lots of parts and bones and skulls and...
KRUGER: (as Sonya) It could be a year old. Her legs were frozen.
BICHIR: (as Marco) Frozen?
KRUGER: (as Sonya) Yes. Can you look into it?
BICHIR: (as Marco) Of course. Yeah. I'll do it first thing in the morning.
KRUGER: (as Sonya) Who can I call to look into it now?
BIANCULLI: The killer is making a point - the first of many - in a way to ensure that the issues he wants to address demand international attention. And very soon, his agenda involves many characters who, at first, seem to have little to do with one another. But, as one promotional tagline for this series says: Everything is connected. Beginning with those two bisected bodies.
The supporting cast includes Ted Levine as Sonya's understanding boss - a role that's similar to but less comic than the one he played as Tony Shalhoub's boss on "Monk," the comedy mystery series about a detective with a serious case of O.C.D.
But "The Bridge" plays everything straight - except that Bichir, who's so charismatic and unpredictable as the Mexican cop, is just as likely to break into a wry smile as a sudden outburst. And Kruger's Sonya is flat-out unpredictable; the two of them, like the two mismatched investigators of "The Killing," make this new murder mystery an intriguing character study.
The first three episodes of "The Bridge" were available for preview and they suggest an increasingly complicated story line - and provide enough startlingly intense moments to keep you not only involved, but captivated. This "Bridge," I'm guessing, is heading somewhere good.
DAVIES: David Bianculli is founder and editor of the website TV Worth Watching and teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey. Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews Eleanor Friedberger's new solo album. This is FRESH AIR.
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