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Murder case’s subplots shore up ‘The Bridge’ on FX



Premieres 9 to 10:30 p.m. Wednesday on FX

Updated: July 10, 2013 11:13AM

Some of the most compelling protagonists on TV right now are crime fighters with their own psychological problems.

Claire Danes’ Emmy-magnet performance as bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison on “Homeland” tops the list. On NBC’s “Hannibal,” Danes’ real-life husband, Hugh Dancy, is a gifted criminal profiler who falls somewhere on the autism spectrum.

FX’s new thriller “The Bridge” also has someone on that spectrum. While it’s not spelled out in early episodes, homicide detective Sonya Cross (German actress Diane Kruger, “Inglorious Basterds”) has Asperger’s. But in this case, Cross’ condition doesn’t add to the drama. It dilutes it and distracts from it. That’s a disappointing surprise, given that one of the writers and executive producers is “Homeland’s” Meredith Stiehm, who helped make Mathison so believable on that Showtime hit.

Luckily for “The Bridge,” other parts of the show are strong enough to prevent it from collapsing under the weight of Kruger’s often implausible, ill-executed character.

Adapted from a Scandinavian TV series (“Bron”), “The Bridge” swaps out the chillier climes of Sweden and Denmark for the dusty, sun-baked border separating El Paso, Texas, and violence-plagued Juarez, Mexico. A bridge connecting these disparate locales becomes a crime scene after what appears to be a corpse is found there; half the body is in El Paso, the other half in Juarez.

The intriguing murder prompts two opposites to come together: Cross and her Mexican counterpart, Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir, “Weeds”). Affable and accustomed to bending the rules, Ruiz serves as a much-needed foil for the overly rigid Cross and her belabored lack of people skills (“I’m sorry if I didn’t employ empathy,” she says robotically to a murder victim’s husband).

The detectives have to cooperate to hunt down a serial killer operating on both sides of the border, a story-rich setting that allows the drama to branch out in myriad directions and explore issues like illegal immigration, drug trafficking and the cultural divide separating the United States and Mexico.

“Why is one dead white woman more important than so many dead just across the bridge?” the killer asks in a voice-distorted phone message.

“The Bridge,” which gets better with each of the first three episodes, ventures beyond a singular quest for a serial killer. Other intriguing storylines and characters are given ample attention, including a recently widowed ranch owner from Tampa played by Annabeth Gish (“Pretty Little Liars”).

Matthew Lillard (“The Descendants”) is fun to watch as an obnoxious newspaper reporter looking to recapture his glory days. Lyle Lovett, however, is not fun to watch as the singer tries — and epic fails — to be a menacing lawyer.

Ted Levine (“Monk”) embodies the world-weary cop as Lt. Hank Wade. A father-like figure, he’s one of the few fans of social misfit Cross, whose unconvincing personality isn’t made any better by the German actress’ inconsistent American accent.

With Ruiz’s influence, Cross likely will get less grating over the 13-episode season. That will make it easier to enjoy the twists and turns of “The Bridge.”

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