Some Final Thoughts on FX’s The Bridge
Let’s give FX some credit for trying.
In the last few years, FX has given us some solid dramas – Justified, Sons of Anarchy, and The Americans, to name a few. They’ve all had their moments – Justified, despite its pulp origins and ambitions, pulled off some great season-long story arcs, let Timothy Olyphant revisit his Deadwood role, and embraced a cutting, low-key country humor along the way. Sons of Anarchy’s “Sopranos meets Hamlet as told through a motorcycle gang” was bloody, explosive and fun, at least for a while. And who knew that Felicity, of all people, would be so terrifying as a KGB spy? Not only were these good halfway houses for former series stars, these were great ideas for tv shows. Given a one sentence premise document for each of these shows, who didn’t want to learn more? If these shows never quite reached the must-watch, Mad Men–Breaking Bad plateau, at least they were different and refreshing. FX could be greenlighting New York police procedurals, fat-guy and skinny-wife sitcoms, subversive-but-not-in-a-good-way bro-comedies or over-the-top network style melodrama, and they went with these instead. That has to mean something, right?
Which brings to that confounded Bridge, another great idea show. The inspirational material – the disturbing number of women who been murdered or gone missing around Juarez – is a story disturbing and different enough to merit its own show. The leads are appealing, at least on paper: Diane Kruger as a damaged American detective with Asperber’s, and Demian Bichir as her Mexican counterpart, which should provide some degree of mismatched partner scripting humor, but the dynamic just isn’t there. Kruger’s depiction of a character with Asperbers’ sometimes sacrifices entertainment value for truth, which is not necessarily the best choice to make for a television show, as the success of The Big Bang Theory shows. Kruger’s character wins you over through prolonged exposure; she has trouble with emotional subtlety, she can’t lie or read a situation correctly, but her good intentions come through eventually, it’s frustrating for the other characters as well as the audience. Bichir has a charm and a comedic sensibility of his own, but it’s not clear if he’s a lead for this show, or if the writer’s haven’t found his character yet.
El Paso and Juarez are filled with arresting imagery that doesn’t get a lot of TV time otherwise, and the supporting cast builds an odd, sub-Lynchian atmosphere that’s distinctly its own. Characters have lots of unexplained tics and vocal impediments. Matthew Lillard makes a surprisingly strong comedic showing as a douchebaggy reporter with a drug problem. He doesn’t do anything that you didn’t seehim do in 1998, but it’s nice to remember that he had a certain type of charm at one point. He might be due for a Jason Batemanish revival; it’s nice to have him back, and frankly, he’s suffered enough. The pieces for a good show are certainly there, but they aren’t in the right places, at least not yet. In 2666 (every post on The Bridge must include one 2666 reference, so here’s mine), Roberto Bolano approached the Juarez murders by insinuating that they were the work of one deranged man, and introducing a group of detectives to hunt him. After many long pages of detailed murder scenes, the detectives rest at a local bar. One of the police officers tells a sexist joke. Another joins in, and then another, and the detectives trade sexist jokes and the scene continues long after the initial humor wears off. It’s Bolano’s way of pointing out that the Juarez murders could not possibly be the work of one person, or a group of demented individuals, but something from a deeper, more frightening problem implicating all of human nature. It’s a brutal passage and a grueling work to read, and it takes a long time to build the desired effect. It remains to be seen if The Bridge will follow this example.
The first season of The Bridge left many questions unanswered, but none more compelling than this: is that Demian Bichir singing the theme song over the opening credits? And if not, can we get Demian Bichir for season two? Is that too much to ask? It worked for Frasier and his tossed salads and scrambled eggs, didn’t it? (Seriously though – how the hell did that happen?) Opening montages, no matter how well put together, are boring by the second episode anyway. I’m pretty sure Gilmore Girls (and I want to say Ally McBeal? Don’t ask me how I know these things) featured awkwardly cast musicians for that sole purpose. The Wire had that guy who played Bubbles’ drug counselor. Seinfeld originally began with Jerry’s standup. Donald Glover even sings the theme song for Community. (That last one might not be true.) Wouldn’t your enjoyment of every show be demonstrably improved if you knew that a cast member was performing the theme song? It would be like those public schools that insist that the teachers coach the sports teams. Better yet, the credited cast should be required to perform the song, Muppets-style, live on television, using whatever musical skills they – and they alone – can muster. Why can’t this happen?