The Bridge – Pilot
Though all of the many TV databases will classify The Bridge alongside the likes of CSI and NCIS as a ‘Crime’ show that is something of an oversimplification. Though the promotional campaign was built on the brilliant concept of a body found in the centre of a bridge connecting the US an Mexico it seems clear, based on this pilot alone, that FX’s latest drama – and perhaps its most mature, i kept forgetting that I wasn’t watching Showtime, AMC or some other premium cable network – is not so much a program about a crime as it is one about crime, in general.
Of course, that body is found and yes after forensic analysis it provides some clues to the cops investigating and sure the show provides some suspects to us in the audience via cutaways to chilling criminal types ( there are two Buffalo Bill’s present here, one in character and one out) but these crime tropes are never what drive the action, they’re more a B-plot occurring in the background. The conflict at the true core of The Bridge isn’t a whodunit, because the battle most important to it is still raging, that being the bout between the artificially twain halves of North and South America; neither is dead yet, but boy has some blood been spilled.
Some might sigh and roll their eyes at just how much the setting stands at the forefront of the show – The Bridge is ‘blunt’ in the same way that Mad Men is often accused of being – but I applaud the choice to tackle the issue head on, rather than relegating it to the role of providing colour like most shows would. The dramatic discrepancies between bordering cities that the stories are built on are a real issue, one massively affecting millions of people and yet they aren’t something that you ever hear about – especially down here in the South Pacific. So if you can convey them well why not focus on them? ‘Because it wouldn’t work as a show that I ever want to watch,’ you might reply and sure, on the surface these sort of socio-political issues don’t sound as exciting as sex and murder might, but as The Wire proved cities don’t have to just be supporting characters, they can be protagonists in shows as fun and as funny as any others out there.
Of course The Wire also had its human characters – I will now stop comparing this show to The Wire…for now, the creators have said that they plan to widen the show’s scope with each season, drifting away from crime specifically and deeper into the cities themselves which, if it occurs, will require more juxtapositions – and The Bridge does a decent job on this front as well. The contrasts between the controlled, concise, relatively clean El Paso and the chaotic, charisma-based and arguably corrupt Juarez are well represented in the officers that head their cities halves of the investigation: the former is alienated and possibly autistic (in an awkward, Sheldon-esque intellectual way rather than the sort of ‘on the scale’ seen from the happy couple of Homeland and Hannibal, whom Kruger still stands on par with in her performance), the latter laid-back and utterly likeable; together they hold the show together despite the obvious cliche of buddy cop formula.
There are a number of different sub-plots and side characters scattered throughout the episode – a wealthy widow who discovers a different sort of bridge on her late husband’s ranch, a disillusioned journalist, a creepy coyote who may or may not be the murderer, etc. – each of which was just as fascinating a watch as the main storyline. Whereas show’s like The Killing and Broadchurch often frustrated the viewer whenever they would wander astray of the primary plotline The Bridge is built in such a way that it only becomes stronger each time that it opens itself out wider and for this reason it may stand to succeed where those shows started to stumble: the post-reveal plotlines.
This is only a pilot, so there is a whole lot of show to go before we or any of the characters figure out who the killer is and more still till they catch him, but I personally can’t wait for that moment and not because I’m invested in the mystery, but rather because I’m excited to see where the story goes from there. These are very early days yet but The Bridge has already shown itself to have the potential for brilliance; whether it achieves it or follows Homeland – with whom it shares some writers – off the edge we’ll have to wait and see, but you can bet I’ll be watching.