We’re living in a golden age of cable TV. Starting with “The Shield” and continuing through “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad,” “Justified” and other series, what was once “basic” cable has in recent years given us serial dramas that rival novels for their depth, complexity and characters.
“The Bridge” is the latest episodic drama that fits that mold.
Based on a Danish/Swedish series, the FX series plays out on two sides of the Bridge of the Americas, between Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas.
An El Paso detective, Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger), and a Chihuahua detective, Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir), are called in when a body is found in the middle of the bridge. To their horror, they discover it is actually two bodies: One half is Mexican, the other American.
In service of its gruesome plot, the series launches into a mix of politics and murder, with a serial killer who seems to relish making statements about the disparities between American and Mexican life and justice as much as he enjoys killing.
The cops struggle to keep up as they deal with not only political considerations but a killer who sets out to shock. One episode puts the detectives in a race against time as they try to find a woman staked out in the desert, her slow death being shown via a webcam.
Kruger’s character is especially interesting: She has Apserger’s Syndrome and is prone to tactless pronouncements. Ruiz is a family man who, nevertheless, goes astray from his moral roots.
There’s a good supporting cast, particularly Ted Levine (the killer from “Silence of the Lambs”) as Cross’ crusty cop superior. Annabeth Gish – looking very different from her “X-Files” days – is good as a widow with a secret.
The promos for the series were dark and macabre, focusing on gravesites and dark alleyways and remote haciendas in the desert. The promos sucked me in.
And the series followed through on that imagery. Each week, the story moves back and forth from the mansions of Texas to the seedy streets of Juarez to the dusty desert expanse. The tourism boards from El Paso and particularly Juarez can’t be any more thrilled with this depiction of the area than the chamber of commerce from Lexington, Kentucky is thrilled with the endless parade of meth heads, hookers and small-time criminals on “Justified.”
“The Bridge” is a little more than halfway through its first season and the early episodes are available online and on demand. It’s definitely worth the effort to try to catch up.