The pedigree of the creative forces that arrived to the FX show The Bridge was certainly an impressive one. The show runners came from two already established and popular shows with Meredith Stiehm (Homeland) and Elwood Reid, who Stiehm worked with on the show Cold Case, and one of its stars was an Oscar nominee. Therefore, with such an interesting cast, it was left to the concept of the show to fulfill its half of the bargain.
The show is based on the Danish/Swedish show of the same name, which starts with finding a body on the border of Denmark and Sweden, and the investigation which follows. Rather than adapt the Scandinavian climate to a show where the border was the United States and Canada, Stiehm and Reid decided to set the show along the U.S.-Mexico border. The U.S. cop is Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger, The Host), who works in the El Paso police department and as we later learn, appears to have Asperger's though it is never actually said. Working on the Tijuana side of the border is Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir, A Better Life), who tries to work the cases he can, though the crime bosses in Mexico have more say on his work than he does. Their investigation goes beyond the origins of the body they find on the bridge and one which looks at the relationship between the two countries along this sensitive area.
The moments involving either of the two stars generally deliver as expected given their resumes. Sonya's condition appears to be tied to a traumatic event when she was younger, and as the season goes on she attempts to reconcile it and Kruger conveys this very effectively. Matching her stride for stride is Bechir, who makes me smile from the opening scenes in the first episode. The chemistry he has with Kruger is excellent and very believable. Worth noting is the appearance of Ted Levine (Monk) as Hank Wade, Sonya's boss and the liaison for Marco during the investigation. He helps Marco deal with Sonya's lack of tact and consequently they seem to travel into the area of decent working partners, as the show's later episodes help prove.
The Bridge also does an effective job using those who appear in the pilot episode to build ongoing peripheral storylines for the season. For instance, Charlotte Millwright (Annabeth Gish, Mystic Pizza) is a wife desperately trying to get her husband back to the U.S. from Mexico in the first episode. She goes from being the pretty wife and stepmother to a colder more calculating woman when she discovers something at her estate. Considering that Bichir is one of the co-stars, Charlotte's ascendance into her new role for the season does hint a little bit of Weeds in a humorous coincidence.
Not all of the storylines work though, and shoehorning characters into them tends to give the show more noise and less signal. For instance, the Steven Linder character and storyline are poorly executed. This is not the fault of Thomas M. Wright, who is a fine actor and considering his off-set interviews, the metamorphosis is fascinating. However, the character and arc seems to be more one that is fascinated with the setting than spending substantive time on telling the story. Take Anton Chigurh, drop him into a broadcast show, and you have what Steven Linder's place is in The Bridge.
Generally, the more important and visible storylines are handled well, with an exception here and there. In addition, the casting of those involved in the storylines while initially surprising wind up being revelatory. Brian Van Holt plays Ray Burton, Charlotte's onetime flame. Van Holt is a cast regular of the comedy Cougartown and he handles Ray's lighter moments as you would expect, but Ray as part of Charlotte's new enterprise is entertaining for Charlotte's storyline. She is another in a growing line of television characters that set up an illegal enterprise, but the building of it and those who play a part in it are bumbling idiots with little grasp to what they are doing. The result is that Charlotte, or Nancy Botwin, or Walter White, are forced to become crueler and more unlikable from their actions. Ray's role in this and how Van Holt handles it are quality in the role.
Speaking of cast surprises, Matthew Lillard appears in The Bridge. As a serious actor. Moreover, the depth to the character is great. Lillard plays Daniel Lyle, a reporter in El Paso, the latest in a line of numerous places of employment for him. Lyle is talented but also has his demons, with addictions to drugs and alcohol. Some of those addictions have put a haze over his writing and reporting through the years, and a recent piece by Lyle is something that serves as motivation for one of Marco's antagonists. Lillard plays most of the scenes against Emily Rios (The Winning Season), who portrays Lyle's co-worker Adriana. Their scenes are good and Lillard's emergence in this dramatic role is the best surprise of all.
There is the feeling as one watches Season One of The Bridge is that they are less focused on overly sensational moments and on developing roots in the ground so that subsequent storylines reap the benefits of it. So while there may be a lack of clarity in storytelling at time, you get the sense that they are trying to do something more for the long haul. In the first season, one gets this through the season, along with some decent moments from the ensemble.
The thirteen episode run of Season One of The Bridge comprises four standard definition discs, all are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Seeing the show in high-definition when it first aired and now this, there is not that much of a drop-off. The image lacks any prolonged bouts of edge enhancement, and colors look about the same as they did when I watched the show the first go round. There are no notable examples of image noise or artifacts and the source material is as pristine as can be. A generally (and aesthetically) pleasing presentation, this.
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround comes with all of the episodes and is not too shabby, considering the fact that it is a dialogue-driven television show and all. The show has moments of low-end fidelity with gunfire when it is called upon, and the rear channels include moments of directional effects that contribute to a satisfying level of immersion for the listener. The soundtrack lacks a consistent use of channel panning but the quibble is minor; for the most part the show is as convincing on disc as it was when I first watched it.
The extras are located on the first and last disc of the set. Disc One has a commentary on the pilot with Bichir, Kruger, Reid and Stiehm and is decent; the group discuss the challenges of making El Paso and Tijuana look like El Paso and Tijuana, while Bichir spends an interesting moment or two discussing his acting influences, and everyone points out any nods to the original show in this. It is a little bit of a dry track but a decent listen. Disc Four starts with "Building The Bridge" (20:36), the closest thing to a making-of on the show that there is here. Cast and crew discuss the original show and choices made to adapt it, while the cash discuss their thoughts on the scripts and the respective characters they portray. The show's set and production design is given some time too. Next is the set's most interesting extra, "Ciudad Juarez: The Other Side of The Bridge" (9:33), where New York Times writer Damien Cave provides a fascinating context to Tijuana's growth, the crime that has plagued it, and its subsequent attempt to recover. Eleven deleted scenes (20:53) that are on eight of the show's episodes is the last extra on the set. Aside from an alternate take on the bomb in Daniel's car the scenes' redundancies are apparent.
Season One of The Bridge may have moments where people flash back to No Country For Old Men, but for me its influence tends to lean more towards Sayles' Lone Star, where American and Mexican relations on the border are looked at similarly. The difference is The Bridge tends to look at it from several different sets of eyes. More of them work than others, thankfully. The set looks and sounds fine, though I would have liked more bonus material. It certainly looks like something one should get into the ground floor on.