The Bridge Season 1 Review “Pilot”

On the surface of FX’s new drama, The Bridge, there seems to be the possibility for a lot of missteps. Yin and yang cop pairings have become better suited to be punchlines instead of dramatic players. The setting gives the show a real chance to be preachy and ham handed with their discussion of the border politics between the United States and Mexico. Finally, the serial killer beat has become quite crowded. It becomes difficult for any show in the genre to stand out from the rest without strong performances or other fascinating quirks. Fortunately for all involved, The Bridge manages to overcome such pratfalls.

One of the major pluses of the pilot is some of the stylistic choices made by creators Elwood Reid, Meredith Stiehm, and director Gerardo Naranjo. Too often on television, Mexico appears to be a vast wasteland filled only with drug lords, soccer playing children in the streets, and everything else you think of when someone says “Mexico”. In the pilot, Naranjo’s choices paint the picture of two places a lot closer culturally than one may think. There are obvious differences, but the show paints a familiar, but very grim, picture of Juarez, Mexico. The show has an amazing sense of place and embraces the place and its realities. I’ll admit to not knowing how close to the truth of the situation they’re getting (Kruger suggested very close), but the show “feels” real. That realness almost gives the show some leeway with regards to some of the overused TV tropes they’re dabbling in.

While the sense of place is wonderfully realized, the show leaves plenty left to the imagination with its characters in the pilot. In particular, Annabelle Gish plays the trophy wife of a deceased husband with some secrets on his massive ranch. We’re left with Gish opening the door to a locked room. How all of this ties into our main storyline is yet to be determined. Why we’re following this woman at all is yet to be determined. Answers will probably come rapidly, and hopefully it’s a lot cooler than what Herschel was hiding in his barn. In addition to Gish, Thomas M. Wright walks around doing a good job of being as unsettling as possible. There’s a chance he’s our murderer (they have similar tastes in boots), but whatever he’s doing with the Mexican girls in his trailer prison probably isn’t good.

At the top of the card in this grim drama are leads Diane Kruger and Demian Bichir. Kruger definitely has the bigger part. Though it’s not mentioned in the pilot, all of the press materials have reminded viewers that she has Aspberger’s syndrome. Kruger’s commitment to the role is admirable. She handles scenes with an icy distance while showcasing her character’s impressive intellect and talent for working on crimes. The role requires a large commitment from Kruger, right down to her appearance. Her character makes no effort to present herself in any way. Save for an especially awesome horse jacket, Kruger lets her performance carry the day. It couldn’t be further from her problematic turn as the glamorous Helen of Troy.

The yang to her yin comes in the form of the warm, charming, weary Demian Bichir. For people unfamiliar with Bichir (he was nominated for an Oscar in 2012), he is an absolute revelation. His part as one of the final good cops in Juarez is a part that could come with a crusader’s mentality. Instead, Bichir plays the role of a man weary from trying to keep up the good fight. In Juarez, it seems, being a good cop is more of an inconvenience than anything else. He refuses to compromise himself as a police officer, but he realizes there is very little he can do to change the grizzly circumstances in Juarez. It’s written all over the face of Bichir as he interacts with Kruger. He’s the kind of leading man people can rally behind in a cable drama. In case you haven’t looked around recently, there aren’t that many of those guys on cable these days. I’m happy to stay with this series as long as Bichir is around to buy me pastries from Mexican street vendors.

The Bridge pilot is the rare pilot that beautifully articulates everything you need to know. It lays a wonderful foundation that allows the viewers to get a sense of place and get to know our two leads. It’s a wonderful piece of television that only makes me want to see more.