The Bridge on FX Takes Film Noir to the Border
Local Connection Spans Livingston and Bozeman
BY PAT HILL
The darker side of life has always been a favorite target for screen producers both big and small, and FX network’s cable television production The Bridge remains true to the gritty genre know as Film Noir.
The Bridge is an American take on the Swedish/Danish television show of the same name. The 13-episode series debuted on FX on July 10 and wrapped up its first season Oct. 2. The show ranks as the top new scripted cable series launch of the summer among adults 18-49, and garnered The Critics’ Choice Television Award for Most Exciting New Series (along with five other shows) in June. FX will air season two of The Bridge with 13 more episodes in 2014.
The Bridge’s local connection spans the Livingston-Bozeman divide, one of the head writer’s being Livingston’s Elwood Reid (Cold Case, Hawaii 5-0), who does double duty as executive producer along with producer Patrick Markey of Bozeman (A River Runs Through It, The Horse Whisperer). Teaming up with writer/producer Meredith Stiehm, the production brings together Diane Kruger, as American female detective Sonya Cross from El Paso, and Demian Bichir, as Mexican homicide investigator Marco Ruiz, in a bizarre tale of mystery and murder on the U.S.-Mexican border. Written in a style more reminiscent of a novel than a television show, The Bridge finds itself in the company of similar modern hit cable television productions like Madmen and Breaking Bad, shows that seem to be offering welcome relief from the glut of reality shows flooding the networks of 21st-Century television.
The two principle characters meet over a body at a border bridge and the body itself holds a mystery. The corpse isn't typical and is one of many, all related, that turn up as the investigation continues. The bottom half of the body is a 16-year-old prostitute from Juárez, while the top half is an anti-immigration judge from Texas.
The investigators, from either side of the border, are nearly as enigmatic as the meaning behind the two halved corpses. Kruger’s character Sonya Cross suffers from an emotional trauma that makes social interaction difficult. Cross has a problem engaging with people, a liability that has the audience wondering if she can communicate effectively with those she needs to work with and still get the bad guy. Bichir, as Marco Ruiz, is a likeable character with secrets of his own, secrets that hint at the complexities of life and death on the border. The relationship between Cross and Ruiz seems as mysterious, at times, as the serial murder case they would solve.
In the first episode, while Cross is uptight and agitated about the killing, for Ruiz it’s just another dead person from Mexico. Cross phones Ruiz after he’s home in bed to discuss the strange half-body situation. She seemingly can’t understand why Ruiz would be sleeping, even though it’s clearly late at night. She asks if he knows about any Mexican murder victims who might have been cut in half.
“We have lots of bodies,” Ruiz tells Cross. “Parts and bones.”
Essentially, season one of The Bridge has a clever serial killer doing his thing in both the U.S. and Mexico, seemingly trying to make a political statement, and two very different law enforcement officials trying to bag the killer. Throw in the relationship between the two countries, along with the violence that the border presents, and the story becomes more compelling to the viewer, and also offers material beyond season one’s serial killer scenario to sustain the series.
Co-executive producer Elwood Reid likes the novelistic approach to television. The part-time Livingston resident has written three novels and a collection of short stories.
“The television I’m gravitating toward recently all functions like novels. That’s where cable [television] can really shine,” Reid told the Writers Guild of America, West, in a September interview.
Reid touched on, and of course helped create, what may be called a new genre and phenomenon in the film and TV world, and is helping to perpetuate it, that being the advent of Cable TV productions that rival and exceed the capacities and content of film and old fashioned television, with film being limited to a 120 minute format (in most cases) to allow for two showings per night in theaters, and to cursory treatment of complex subjects (reducing novels to mere outlines), while the continuing Cable TV series format, now adopted by FX, Netflix, A&E, HBO, and others, does for Cable what Lonesome Dove once did for over the air television—transmit ongoing plot lines and slower moving stories that take their time to unfold the way novels do (Lonesome Dove was a novel fully adapted to screen with six hours running time). and the format holds viewership, which means ad revenues. These days, production quality is high and venues for distribution varied, including Cable TV, Netflix, iTunes, and surely more to come. Not fond of commercials? Not a problem—pay $1.99 to $2.99 per episode on iTunes and watch them back to back. With dedicated viewers coming back for more (provided content warrants it), full seasons can be purchased in an instant at a discount.
“You need to give people good characters so they’re coming back for that; the characters don’t hit reset every week,” Reid told Writers Guild. “That’s what happens in network [television] a lot of times: they solve the bloody murder and next week it’s right back [like] nothing happened in these people’s lives. They don’t change much. Cable is the opposite. With cable, every step along the way, every episode, the characters are going through all kinds of incredible changes, and the story is changing...”.
Reid likened novels, and The Bridge, to a multi-course meal, a sustaining event that offers more than other formats, and a signifi-cant change in the way stories are presented on screen.
While some critics, those conditioned by the pace of conventional film and TV, find this book-like approach annoying, the small screen audience at large, especially on the cable television front, seems to be eating it up. Look for season two of The Bridge to be as compelling as season one.