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On the U.S.-Mexico border, a serial-killer show with social relevance

In the category of crime drama The Bridge slots into three sub-categories – serial killer, mismatched detectives and social relevance.

The Bridge (FX Canada 10 p.m.) is, however, mainly about its location, which heightens every aspect of those sub-categories. It opens in El Paso, Tex., on the bridge that links the city to Juarez, Mexico. A body is dumped there.

A local El Paso detective turns up to investigate. A Mexican cop also shows up. There's some argument about whether the case is an El Paso or Juarez matter. It's decided that the American cop, homicide detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger), will take the case and the Mexican, Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir), goes home to bed. So Sonya goes about her business of investigating, and clumsily. It emerges that she has Asperger syndrome, making her astute about crimes but socially awkward and unable to express empathy.

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Then, in the following few minutes, things change and become gruesome. It turns out that the body on the bridge is actually the remains of two people. The top is part of the body of an El Paso judge, a woman known for her strong anti-immigration views. The lower half is that of a missing Mexican teenage girl.

Thus the two cops are obliged to work together. And thus The Bridge wades into the socio-political. In this duo reside all the tensions and misunderstandings that exist between Anglos and Latinos. And it's not that this theme is shoved emphatically at the viewer. It's just there in looks and gestures, in attitudes to small things and the wariness that is always in the background.

The Bridge is loosely derived from the Swedish/Danish crime drama of the same title. It was adapted by Meredith Stiehm and Elwood Reid. (There was a rumour when the show was being developed that it would be set at the Detroit/Windsor border.) Stiehm, the creator of the old CBS drama Cold Case, was also a writer on Homeland and responsible for some of its strongest episodes. While there is no obvious overlap between the character of Carrie (Claire Danes) on Homeland and Sonya Cross there is considerable attention to Sonya's formidable problems with other people. You just know that this woman is going to be a mess before many episodes play out.

While there is hardly a shortage of serial-killer dramas on TV, The Bridge manages to place the evil inside the context of its setting. At the end of the first hour, the killer points out that about five homicides a year take place in El Paso, while thousands are murdered in Juarez and nobody cares much about the latter. What's his point, exactly? Well, we'll find out in coming weeks.

The point of The Bridge is to draw us into a mystery, set up a gripping cat-and-mouse game and ask us to dwell on the issues of what divides the U.S. from Mexico and what is shared on the border. As such, it's a very promising drama.

FX has had a very strong run in recent years. It's a basic cable channel in the U.S. – unlike HBO, it airs commercials – but a batch of shows, The Shield, American Horror Story, Justified, Sons of Anarchy, have made it an elite, influential outlet. The Bridge may wobble down the line, but the first episode suggests that it might join those shows in terms of excellence. It's beautifully made, too. (The pilot was directed by Gerardo Naranjo, who made the movie Miss Bala.) There's an extraordinary texture to the scenes of El Paso at night and Juarez during the day. You can almost smell the menace and taste the dust that seem to drape the location in weariness and dissatisfaction.

There's an awful lot going on in the first hour, which makes it less than a cable drama masterpiece. But it's got room to grow from a very good start.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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