Review: Crossing Lines 1×1 (NBC/TF1)

Investigating trans-European crimes – with the help of Americans

Crossing Lines

In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, NBC
In France: TF1. No air date yet

Crime, these days, is global. In Europe, which doesn’t have an equivalent to the FBI specifically tasked with investigating ‘federal’ crimes, if you’re a computer hacker in Poland, you can steal money from a French bank as easily as if you were in Paris and the policiers will have a devil of a time bringing you to book. If you’ve killed someone in London and are looking to avoid the police, a quick trip on the Eurostar over to Brussels and even if the Met know you committed the crime, getting the Federale Politie/Police Fédérale/Föderale Polizei to not only talk to each other but find you and arrest you will be far more challenging for them than getting the South Tyneside police to do the same.

My, if only there were some kind of pan-European bunch of cops tasked with investigating crimes that cross EU state boundaries, able to skirt these kind of jurisdictional issues so they can bring to heel criminals who have escaped justice because of lack of co-operation between forces.

Well, there isn’t, but Crossing Lines, a US-French-German co-production, imagines such an elite group of cops, albeit one that needs an American lead for in-story reasons that are a little opaque and for real-world reasons that are far more explicable.

It stars William Fichtner (Prison Break, Invasion, MDs) as a crippled New York cop who’s moved to the Netherlands and become a garbage collector for reasons that are initially inexplicable but become clearer by the end of the pilot. He’s recruited for his deductive powers (and American-ness) by a French detective (singer and occasional actor Marc Lavoine) who heads up an elite team of cops at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The team also includes a British interrogation specialist (Genevieve O’Reilly), a Northern Irish weapons specialist and former traveller (Richard Flood), a German technology expert (Tom Wlaschiha from HBO’s Game of Thrones), an Italian undercover specialist (Gabriella Pession) and a French crime analyst with an eidetic memory (Moon Dailly from France 3’s Commissaire Magellan). Together with the help of an ICC inspector (Donald Sutherland – do I really have to tell you who he is?), the team can investigate crimes other groups can’t touch.

Their first case? Well, given the series was created by one of the show runners of Criminal Minds, despite the shiny international cast, the numerous glossy European locations, relatively high budget and a surprising nose for local cultural differences, would it surprise you if I told you it was a relatively dull, tedious, cliched affair involving an American serial killer? Probably not.

Here’s a trailer:

“Crossing Lines” is NBC’s new action-packed global crime drama. The series taps into a unit mandated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate cross-border crimes and ultimately bring global criminals to justice. “Crossing Lines” is set in the world’s most exotic locales, where an elite team of eager cops work to solve the most notorious international crimes.

The series stars William Fichtner (“Prison Break”) as Carl Hickman, a wounded New York cop, pulled from the edge by a group of unlikely saviors, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Donald Sutherland (“The Hunger Games”) as Michel Dorn, an inspector in the International Criminal Court, and Marc Lavoine (“The Good Thief”) as Louis Daniel, the head of an elite cross-border police unit who hunts down the world’s most brutal criminals. Also starring in the series are Gabriella Pession (“Wilfred”) as Europol sergeant Eva Vittoria, Moon Dailly (“Black Heaven”) as French detective and criminal analyst Anne-Marie San, Richard Flood (“Titanic: Blood and Steel”) as Irish detective Tommy McConnel and Tom Wlaschiha (“Game of Thrones”) as Berlin police officer Sebastian Berger.

Through globalization, many countries have been opened and barriers removed to ensure easy trade, travel and cultural diversity. However, this openness has given opportunities to criminals looking to exploit the system and ultimately threaten our global safety. As Europe has become a “safe house” for criminals eluding law enforcers, a special kind of law enforcement team is needed to handle specific ongoing crimes on a global level. “Crossing Lines” is the story of one such team, made up of five international cops, headed by Captain Daniel. The team – comprised of individuals who have little in common – must learn to live and work under the most dangerous and potentially deadly conditions. Housed in an unused storage section underneath the ICC, this mismatched team faces bureaucratic, jurisdictional and cultural obstacles while traversing continents in pursuit of justice.

“Crossing Lines” is produced by Tandem Communications in association with Bernero Productions in coproduction with TF1 Production and in association with Sony Pictures Television Networks. Edward Allen Bernero (“Criminal Minds”), Rola Bauer (“The Pillars of the Earth”), Jonas Bauer (“The Company”) and Tim Halkin (“Labyrinth”) serve as executive producers.

Is it any good?
Not especially, although it can be surprising.

Certainly for the first 15-20 minutes of the pilot, you’d probably rather stab your knees with a rusty nail than have to sit through the relentlessly terrible dialogue and scenes, which see Fichtner embark on his ‘hero’s journey’ – a former New York city cop, he’s been crippled and can no longer use a gun. Want to have a guess if he’ll find the courage to pick it up and use it again and return to being a cop by the end of the episode?

Nevertheless, despite working as a bin man at a fairground site in the Netherlands, saving fortune tellers from being accosted by rude clients, he’s eventually found and recruited back to cop work by Lavoine. The case so burningly urgent that knight in shining armour Fichtner and his Sherlock Holmes-like deductions must be recruited to help solve it? Well, don’t be too surprised that it’s a guy who goes around killing women in unpleasant ways. Yes, more nameless women used to bolster a male hero. Quelle surprise.

After a typically cliched introduction to the team, where everyone has to demonstrate how brilliant they all are and we get huge, terribly written dumps of character exposition, character motivations and hints at maybe a little romance, too, things start to settle down and we get to do some crime solving. And actually, this isn’t so bad. The writers have a relatively good grasp of European politics and local customs. There’s more than a few howlers – for example, the cops are all described as coming from ‘the Eurozone’, which would be a surprise to the English and the Northern Irish characters, and the Northern Irish character never once mentions Belfast but seems to have a lot of knowledge about and access to information from Dublin. But at the same time, the show knows that Brits don’t talk about Scotland Yard but ‘the Met’ (although the show thinks they’re synonyms), knows that GSG-9 is Germany’s armed police division (but doesn’t know they’re more special forces than SWAT) and knows that Cheltenham Girls School is posh.

Admittedly, it does take a few jumps into the unreality pool that US TV has created, taking the relatively cutting-edge idea of LIDAR-scanning at crime scenes and giving it the Bones/Minority Report treatment to give us holograms that can be manipulated by touch. But it also gives us twists that we might not have been expecting (if we’d not been reading the show’s publicity material), an interrogation scene that is decidedly European rather than an American, at least one death and a hero’s journey that doesn’t quite end the way we think it will.

The cast are variable: Fichtner isn’t really stretched and Sutherland spends most of his time talking philosophically to pigeons; Tom Wlaschiha, last seen as the face-changing Jaqen H’ghar in Game of Thrones, is very good in several languages but under-used; Gabriella Passion may have grown up in the US but she can’t act in English, at least; and Richard Flood may be Irish but he can do a decidedly good Belfast accent, even if the “Irish traveller criminal who joined the police and now has a hit out on him from his father” is beyond ridiculous.

But the show is two parts stupid for every one part smart, with clunky plotting ranging from that terrible plot dumping through to the good cops getting imprisoned by jealous local cops on jurisdictional grounds. Some of the characters are there purely to fill out the co-production stipulations, rather than because they’re compelling, and as always (cf Graceland), the women are outnumbered two-to-one by men and are there to be emotional, for romantic interest or to get captured and then rescued by the men, rather than because they have compelling sets of skills.

Yet with the international locations, ensemble international cast and potential for interesting stories, it is at least very different from most US TV shows. It’s certainly better than TF1’s last foray into the international English-language market, Jo, although it’s considerably more stupid than NBC’s (The Philanthropist and Hannibal). If it could just focus less on the the novelty of its internationalness, focus on dealing with some of the unique crime stories offered by its set-up and try to avoid those comfortable cliches designed to reassure viewers that this fruity foreign show is still an ordinary procedural at heart, this could be a pretty good procedural. Here’s hoping, any way.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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