News Column

El Paso Times, Texas, Doug Pullen column

July 30, 2013

YellowBrix

July 30--I watched an advance copy of episode 4 of "The Bridge" over the weekend. It is good. On par with the pilot episode good. But I won't tell you any more about that. You'll have to see for yourself when it airs Wednesday on FX.

Now that we're three episodes in to this politically tinged international murder mystery set in the border towns of El Paso and Juarez, I wanted to air a few thoughts and impressions of what we've seen so far.

Drama vs. Politics>> The show works best when it emphasizes the murder investigation -- set in motion when halves of two bodies are found on the Bridge of the Americas -- and the politics inherent in that act. The 90-minute pilot

episode, which debuted July 10, had to establish a lot of characters, storylines and political and dramatic context. The second and third episodes strayed some from the political aspects, including hot-button issues such as immigration and the body counts in Juarez, focusing a little more on the personalities and melodramatic elements. Get ready for Wednesday's show.

I See White People>> There sure are a lot of white people in their El Paso -- this in a town that's 83 percent Hispanic. The cops are white, the ranchers are white, two of three El Paso Times characters are white. This is disappointing, but I'm guessing FX and the show's producers are trying to reach as wide an audience (read: white Americans)

as possible, so they've populated the El Paso side with a lot of pale faces.

Howdy, Pardner>> On the same note, have you noticed how many characters wear cowboy hats and speak with Texas accents? Lt. Hank Wade (Ted Levine), boss of idiosyncratic El Paso Detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger), has an accent. So does Agent Tim Cooper (Johnny Dowers), Lyle Lovett's oily lawyer character, and the socialites who insult new widow Charlotte Millwright (Annabeth Gish). One of the show's creators, Elwood Reid, told me his bosses wanted more cowboy hats and Texas accents, presumably because that's what most people think of when they think of Texas. Guess we should be happy they didn't give us all horses and oil derricks, too.

Se Habla Espanol>> They've also created plenty of intriguing Mexican characters who speak Spanish. Using English subtitles for non-speakers is a great way to mix the countries, cultures and languages without alienating one or the other. Imagine if all the Mexican characters had to speak in English. It's also a good move because the show has been marketed heavily to Hispanics and will air in several Spanish-speaking countries.

Act Naturally>> Demian Bichir, the Mexican actor who plays Chihuahua State Police Detective Marco Ruiz, is a revelation. I first noticed him with the 2011 film "A Better Life," for which he received an Oscar nod, but had no idea of the depth of his talent, resourcefulness and charisma. Bichir, who has family in Juarez, pours himself into the role of this morally conflicted character. I've also been impressed with how much Matthew Lillard has been able to do with a pretty one-dimensional character, bitter and cynical El Paso Times reporter Daniel Frye.

Act Unnaturally>> I'm still deciding if I like Kruger's portrayal of Detective Cross, mostly because she's got a huge challenge playing a highly intelligent cop whose struggles with Asperger's syndrome is implied but not spelled out for viewers. I'm leaning toward like. She's got the vacant, distant, fearful eyes down pat, and I'm intrigued about what she'll do with the character as we learn more about her illness and a tragic past only hinted at so far. Will they reveal it? I don't know. They should at some point. That's probably why it's been stressed in promotional materials, so viewers will cut Sonya some slack. My gut: Kruger will get an Emmy nomination next year; so will Bichir.

Who's watching>> "The Bridge" got off to a good start with the first airing (of several) of its pilot episode on July 10, drawing slightly more than 3 million viewers, good for an 0.9 Nielsen rating, making it one of the top-rated original cable shows that week. Predictably, viewership dropped -- to 1.7 million viewers and an 0.5 rating -- for second episode "Calaca" on July 17, which didn't get the advance hype, but increased to 1.8/0.7 with last week's "Rio," not as impressive as a "Family Guy" rerun, which had a 1.4 rating, but good enough for a tie with 15 other shows, including reruns of "Duck Dynasty" and "The Daily Show." The good numbers so far, and a healthy inventory of advertising, suggest "The Bridge" will be renewed for a second season.

Features co-editor Doug Pullen covers arts and entertainment. He may be reached at dpullen@elpasotimes.com; 546-6397. Read Pullen My Blog at elpasotimes.com/blogs. Follow him at @dougpullen on Twitter and facebook.com/dougpulleneptimes.

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