As is the case with many border towns, the economies of Juárez can seem like a manifestation of the guilty conscience of the country it nestles up against -- though the pharmacies and brothels have become overshadowed by drug-fueled organized crime and by manufacturing plants taking advantage of cheaper labor and laxer working regulations. It's a darkly fascinating setting, and its one that "The Bridge" is set on taking full advantage of -- which may be why its procedural aspects feel particularly stilted and stale. The series has so much to work with that whenever it settles back into being another serial killer story featuring another dedicated but socially inept detective, it's deflatingly rote.
Demián Bichir (who got an Oscar nomination for "A Better Life") and Diane Kruger ("Inglourious Basterds") are the mismatched pair of cops who end up working together after a body is found placed directly on the border in the middle of one of the bridges connecting the two countries. Their dynamic, like the basic plot, is informed by the Scandinavian series on which "The Bridge" is based, one set around the border between Denmark and Sweden. Marco Ruiz (Bichir) is the Mexican detective, charming, married and trying to support his expanding family without taking bribes or doing side gigs for the cartels, who are closely involved with his police force. Sonya Cross (Kruger) works for the El Paso PD and is, as is a small screen trend in female investigator, official and otherwise ("The Killing," "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," "Bones"), apparently on the autism spectrum. (A scene in which Sonya goes to a bar in the second episode strongly recalls a similar one with Claire Danes' Carrie Mathison in "Homeland.")
When, on first meeting Marco on the bridge, Sonya brusquely claims the case as an American one, he shrugs and says he has "nine heads in the parking lot at City Hall" and isn't going to fight her for it. Given that that's not a lurid exaggeration of the type of crime Juárez has seen, Marco's later insistence on joining Sonya in her investigation and the focus on a killer who makes statements about "dialectics" as part of his motivation seems frivolous and false. Marco and Sonya are TV cops investigating a TV killer against a background that's far more compelling in its reality than the stagey crime story that consumes the foreground, at least in the first three episodes shown to the press.
Kruger, with the more overtly complication role, just isn't able to give enough solidity to Sonya -- she's a collection of carefully practiced tics, from the need to reminded to make eye contact to the constant wearing of earbuds. Bichir fares a bit better as the amusedly world-weary Marco, though his relationship with his younger wife (Catalina Sandino Moreno of "Maria Full of Grace") and troubled teenage son is thrown off track by spontaneous act in one of these early episodes that seems born out of plot requirements rather than character.
There's enough of interest in "The Bridge" to make it worth hanging onto for a while despite a certainly heavyhandedness and the silly dramatics of its main storyline -- mainly in its glancing details, from Marco's responding to a butchered "buenos días" from one of Sonia's coworkers with a dry "howdy, partner" to his attempt to explain why the case of a dead girl he signed off on a few years before was never really investigated. And the series is gorgeous to look at, particularly the pilot, directed by Gerardo Naranjo ("Miss Bala"), in which the lights of cigarettes, cars, the Franklin Mountain star and sirens glow in the night, illuminating the faces of officers and nightclub girls, onlookers and victims alike.