Late to the Party: Should I Be Watching FX's 'The Bridge'?

The Bridge (Photo: FX)

Yes if you like serial killers. No if you don’t like scorching desert sun.

I have no idea why I started watching The Bridge. I suspect it’s because some mention in the weeks before it began noted that it is based on a Scandinavian series, and I am nothing if not loyal to the ancestral lands of Bret Favre.

I do know why I’m still watching it – Ted Levine. There are other tasty performances on the show and we’ll get to them (and the remarkably effective use of the color tan in the art direction) shortly, but just to see him step onto screen early in the first episode and embody the boss/father you always wanted, plus a heapin’ chili spoonful of Texas drawl, made me squee a little. And I do not squee lightly. Nor is The Bridge really a squee sort of show; serial killers may have fan bases, but (I hope to gawd this is true) not tweengirl fan bases.

Look, you’ve probably heard something about this show. You’ve heard that the original Scandinavian version is superior, that Diane Krueger is not pulling off a realistic character enough of the time1, and maybe that the choice to set the series on a border between two very different cities (El Paso and Juarez) was theoretically less compelling than the theoretical original recommendation of the bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

To those points I say ‘I dunno, haven’t seen it.’, ‘Read the footnote.’, ‘I am a man of concrete realism and thus do not deal in hypotheticals.’

I also say that it is hard to avoid chuckling lovingly at least once an episode, what with the many, many well-formed character moments abounding. They abound especially with Demian Bichir as Marco Ruiz, the last happily married (almost?) and uncorrupted (yes…?) cop in all of Juarez. Either half of that description would be fertile ground for a watchable character; the way that Bichir incorporates both is giving The Bridge a sort of quiet moral center.

There’s a pair of reporters played so delightfully apart and together by Matthew Lillard (Mathew Lillard, people!) and Emily Rios that I would pay to watch a spin-off of the two of them wandering around ‘getting the story'2. There’s Johnny Dowers, who looks like he might be related to someone from the Anchorman news team3, and Annabeth Gish who looks like she could kill you or love you, make you or ruin you more and more with every passing cock of the eyebrow. Thomas M. Wright, doing an ode to Buffalo Bill (I can only assume Levine grudgingly agreed to teach Wright all he knows about being creepy and sometimes half naked), continues to open up from his red herring beginnings. And, really: Ted Levine. Is it possible to embody ‘mosey’ via dialogue? How about bowleggedness? Because I think he’s is doing it.4

And then there’s Maude. Maude is what I’m going to call The Bridge‘s plot(s) because it sounds like mauve, which matches the dusty setting, and it’s innocuous – yet enigmatic!, just like all of The Bridge‘s plot(s).5 Like spending any time in the washed out reddish-tan of the Tex-Mex desert that could itself be another character6, the plot is a slow burn. There have been some jaw-dropping moments that then seem to get… dropped. Eight episodes in, pieces are coming together in interesting ways – but what keeps me coming back are the characters.

The Bridge is stuck somewhere between the serial-killer police procedural it claims to be and a generally watchable character study7. The difficulty it’s having in picking a side makes me wonder how much it’ll hold anyone’s attention season to season – it’s not building momentum like The Following, for example. The characters in it are, overall, very watchable – for now, at least, I’m happy to go along for the ride.

Review posted after eight (8) episodes. 

  1. This point is sadly kinda true; she was only just settling into *some* of her Aspergers-tinged line readings in episode 5. Liked where she was going early on in the series; doesn’t seem to be getting there often enough.  
  2. Spoiler: the story is often located at the bottom of a whiskey bottle  
  3. He also manages to sneak in a new, valid layer of utility into each episode.  
  4. Despite my editor’s dearest wishes, let me relate a much better Facebook status than the hypothetical one from my take on Siberia: “Did not know that Ted Levine was in ‘The Bridge’. Will now likely watch it regardless of quality.” This prompted the totally valid response from a friend that “it seems like his character is almost identical to the one he played on “Monk,” right down to the exasperation with his main detective.” And then an also valid remark from a different friend that “The agency will be dropping by in the next few days to ensure that you’ve fulfilled your one obligatory utterance of “Was she a great big fat person?”” Sadly, said utterance has yet to occur.  
  5. Stick with me on this. Certainly the writers hope you’ll stick with their elaborate mix of evil-doers and uncertain motivations.  
  6. Baltimore in The Wire it ain’t, but this show uses its settings to round out character exchanges and give real umph to plot points. Multiple locations help, but this is a much more artistic series than Sons of Anarchy or Justified, and it uses art direction and sound design to its advantage.  
  7. …making it quite like another Texas-set show that’s not about what it’s about – Friday Night Lights.  

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About Aaron Mucciolo 206 Articles

He does things. That’s all we can say at this time. E-mail: mooch@whatelseison.tv