In the US/Canada: Wednesdays, 10pm ET/7pm PT, FX
In the UK: Not yet acquired
As I remarked at the time I reviewed its first episode last year, the superb Swedish/Danish co-production Bron/Broen/The Bridge very much had its eye on the international market when it was made. Taking elements of everything from Wallander, The Killing and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the show sees a dead body – subsequently revealed to be two halves of two bodies stuck together – left on the exact border of Sweden and Denmark. Two detectives, each playing up to the stereotypes held about their respective countries – icy Swedish female detective with Asperger’s Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) and schlubby, overly-personable Danish detective Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) – then have to investigate the crime together, which turns out to have increasingly political ramifications, as the serial killer responsible exposes inequalities in both countries.
Since then, it’s been acquired by many countries, including the UK and the US. But what I didn’t appreciate when I wrote that review was that in this age of international co-productions, The Bridge provides a surefire format for adaptation by other countries. Indeed, the UK and France are making The Tunnel together (I’m not sure how that’s going to work, given the respective national stereotypes) and now FX in the US had made The Bridge, taking the same story as the original and transposing it to the US-Mexican border.
The remake sees Diane Kruger playing Sonya Cross, an Aspie member of the El Paso police department in the US, while Demián Bichir is Marco Ruiz, a detective for the Mexican state of Chihuahua. As with the original, two halves of two women – this time a US judge and a Mexican teenager – are found on the bridge between their two countries and the two detectives have to work together to find out who’s behind the murders and what they want. Along the way, they encounter an unethical journalist (Matthew Lillard), a wealthy widow (Annabeth Gish), Cross’s helpful, Asperger’s-friendly boss (Ted Levine) and the corrupt Mexican police. All kinds of political issues are raised, too, ranging from immigration through drugs and prostitution.
Now, to a certain extent, we’ve been here before. For starters, people who’ve seen the original will obviously want to know if there’s any point watching the remake. Indeed, we’ve already seen the US adapt a Scandinavian show, The Killing, as initially a shot-for-shot remake, so there was no point in watching the somewhat lesser remake if you’d seen the original. But equally, as the show began to diverge from its source material, it ended up giving us an inferior ending that annoyed even viewers who’d never seen the original.
On the strength of this first episode, though, I’d say that largely, whether you’ve seen the original or you haven’t, it’s worth watching, since it takes many of the strengths of the original and adds its own to the mix. Here’s a couple of trailers – one in English, one in Spanish, appropriately enough.
Set on the border between El Paso and Juarez, The Bridge centers on two detectives, one from the United States and one from Mexico, who must work together to hunt down a serial killer operating on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. Executive Producers Meredith Stiehm (Homeland) and novelist and television writer/producer Elwood Reid adapted The Bridge for American television from the international hit series Bron, which was set on the border of Denmark and Sweden.
In The Bridge, Demián Bichir stars in the role of “Marco Ruiz,” a homicide investigator for the state of Chihuahua, Mexico living in Ciudad Juárez. A family man, Marco is one of the last good men in a corrupt and apathetic police force that is outgunned by the powerful drug cartels. He’s sharp, charming, and observant and painfully aware that his city is in a state of chaos. When a body is dumped on the bridge that spans the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez border, Ruiz is forced to work with his American counterpart, “Detective Sonya Cross.”
Diane Kruger stars as “Detective Sonya Cross,” a dogged cop who has an undiagnosed disorder that falls on the autism spectrum. Cross is shockingly candid and calls the world as she sees it, which can be off-putting to her colleagues, but she is also extremely effective at her job.
Ted Levine plays “Lieutenant Hank Wade,” a member of Detective Cross’s team at the El Paso Police Department who is a veteran cop with a weathered, cowboy swagger. He is not surprised by anything that human beings will do to one another, but he’s utterly baffled by the office coffeemaker. Hank knows that Sonya communication skills are challenged, and repeatedly has to advise her how to work more diplomatically with others. Annabeth Gish plays “Charlotte Millwright,” a wealthy ranch wife suddenly widowed when her older husband Karl suffers a massive heart attack while on the Mexican side of the border. A sheltered woman with a ranch to run, Charlotte quickly learns that her late husband has many shocking secrets. Thomas M. Wright plays “Steven Linder,” a wolf of a man who is no stranger to the dark and jumbled chaos of Juárez.
Matthew Lillard plays “Daniel Frye,” a cocky reporter with the El Paso Times whose hard partying ways have taken a toll on his once promising journalism career.
Is it any good?
While it doesn’t have the beauty or the poetry of the original, the US remake has a lot going for it since as well as losing some of the original’s more outlandish aspects, it serves as a refreshing commentary on US-Mexican relations as well as each country’s own attitudes and problems.
Obviously, this is YA serial killer show in a year of shows about serial killers (The Following, Cult, Bates Motel, Crossing Lines, The Fall and Hannibal), who are very much going out of fashion in real life. But as with The Fall, The Bridge works from the basic unsavoury exploitation and degradation of women that the concept usually involves and comments on the mistreatment of women – particularly poor, anonymous women – that this obsession relies on.
The show also uses its unique setting to comment on issues of immigration, with the US judge murdered having given anti-immigrant verdicts in the past, and our serial killer – or should I say ‘serial killer’, which isn’t a spoiler, I hope – using his murder of the victim to raise awareness of the issues.
As with the original, we’re also seeing early signs of the diabolical – some would say ludicrous – planning of the original, as well as a few potential red herrings, including a man who helps women to cross the border illegally, who may or may not be a bad guy. The character isn’t identical to the original, so already we’re seeing signs of divergence, which is promising. More on that at the end.
Our two new leads do well. Demián Bichir is practically identical to Kim Bodnia in performance, beyond the obvious, and does a great job of making the character the antithesis of Kruger’s Cross – in both English and Spanish, with many of the scenes appropriately enough entirely in Spanish. Kruger actually delivers a surprising performance, subtler than we’re perhaps used to. She also does a good job of conveying her character’s Asperger’s, although the script does emphasise her condition more than the original’s did, with Levine reminding her of the importance of eye contact and Krueger apologising to someone “if she didn’t have sufficient empathy”. Unfortunately, although she does a relatively good job at a soft Texan accent, her German accent does come through quite strongly in a few scenes, particularly towards the end of the first episode, but I’m hoping those were shot early – or that there’s an explanation later on in the script (perhaps she’s Amish and moved south to Texas later in life…).
One note of difference is that Kruger is more self-aware, more apologetic about her Aspieness, compared to the unapologetic, more wide-eyed and perhaps more unrealistic interpretation by Helin, who had the Asperger’s of a child rather than the more adult version Kruger conveys. So far, there are no signs of Saga Norin’s unabashed sexuality, although that may be still to come but Kruger’s character also has had some of her rougher, more implausible edges taken off: she dresses relatively normally, rather than in the raincoat and leather jeans of Helin, and although she drives like a psychopath, too, she drives a pick-up truck rather than a vintage sports car.
Of course, this is just the beginning, and who knows what differences are going to appear further down the line. Certainly, the look of the show is different, maintaining the ethereal qualities of the bridge and cities at night time, while adding griminess and gut-wrenching poverty to the mix. There are signs that Cross’s sister will get more of an inclusion than Norin’s did and with such a long tradition of cop shows in the US, it’s already proving a sharper commentary on the US and Mexican systems than the original quite managed on the Swedish and Danish approaches.
My one hope in all these minor changes from the original is that there is one major change: the ending. Perhaps the biggest let down of the original was its ‘Scooby Doo’-esque villain, who effectively neutralised all the good work done in the previous episodes. If they haven’t, brace yourself for a little disappointment, at least. But so far, even if they don’t change the big reveal of who the killer is and his raison d’être, the journey is well worth it and by the looks of it, the show has two sources of strength to draw on to ensure it maintains the same level of quality as the original.