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Review: 'The Bridge' has a good foundation but remains a bit shaky

MexicoDiane KrugerA Better Life (movie)Matthew LillardHomeland (tv program)Ted LevineAlexis Wright

Based, as all American TV will one day be, on a Scandinavian model, "The Bridge," which premieres Wednesday on FX, adapts a Danish-Swedish series about a corpse found straddling a border and the binational investigation that follows. It has its good points and its less good points, but there's enough of the former to merit a look.

The American version, which is not, unlike its model, an international production — although Mexico's Gerardo Naranjo ("Miss Bala") directed the opening episode — has been set in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. (Cue themes: immigration, narco-terrorism, prostitution, etc.)

Because that border is well monitored, whereas crossing between EU countries is somewhat like driving from Santa Monica into Venice, the series begins with an event more appropriate to a Bond film than to a realistic crime drama: All the power on the bridge linking the cities goes out, allowing Our Killer the time to place a woman's body upon it. (Mild spoiler coming! It is two bodies: the top half of an American judge and the bottom half of a missing Mexican girl.)

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This unusual situation leads to the teaming of El Paso homicide detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger), and her Juárez-based counterpart, Det. Marco Ruiz (Demián Bichir, Oscar-nominated in 2012 for "A Better Life"). As with every such teaming in history and, I predict, until the end of time, they are an odd couple whose contrasting qualities make for a successful whole.

He's fire, she's ice (indeed, in the German-born Kruger, the producers seem to have purposely got hold of the blondest person they could find); she's young, he's not so young; he's rumpled, she's pressed; she goes by the book, where as a good cop in a wicked town, he's used to improvising. He's a people person, with a wife and kids, who brings flowers and shares pastries. She's an island, except for superior officer Lt. Hank Wade (Ted Levine) — she panics when he mentions retirement — and the stranger she picks up at a bar for some meaningless, practical sex.

For she is also the latest in a growing line of strong yet afflicted female investigators ("The Killing," "Top of the Lake," "Homeland," for which "Bridge" co-adapter Meredith Stiehm also wrote). In Cross' case it's an actual condition — she has Asperger's, which you are directed to notice as if from fear that you'll mistake Kruger for a bad actress. And while this trait is inherited from the Scandinavian original, it also makes the story less about contrasting nationalities and more of an Oscar-Felix thing.

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As in the opening, there is a continuing tech-genius component to the villainy that feels somewhat out of tune with the rest of the piece. And some of the characters — also starring are Thomas M. Wright as a suspicious oddball, Matthew Lillard as a dissolute newspaperman (you know the type), and Annabeth Gish as a wealthy but friendless widow — can, as of yet, hardly be seen through their quirks. (Those in the smaller roles, by contrast, thrive: Levine, who brings a degree of amused lightness to the proceedings; a deadpan Lyle Lovett as a sinister lawyer; Emily Rios as a cub reporter.)

I've seen only three out of what research suggests will be 13 episodes. Of those three, the third seemed less promising to me than the first; the storytelling is sometimes heavy-handed and obvious, while the social-comment element (the killer, expressing a social agenda through the above-mentioned dissolute newspaperman, uses the word "dialectic") so far feels thin and even misdirected.

But there is a lot of time left, and what's left to be revealed might make a pleasing pattern of what little we for the moment know. The underlying concept makes a solid foundation — there is a British-French version in the offing, with a body found halfway through the Chunnel, and one could spend an idle hour, or 20 minutes anyway, imagining other such neighboring-country franchises — even if some of what's been erected atop of it feels a little rickety.

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'The Bridge'

Where: FX

When: 10 p.m. Wednesday

Rating: TV-MA-L (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17 with an advisory for coarse language)

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MexicoDiane KrugerA Better Life (movie)Matthew LillardHomeland (tv program)Ted LevineAlexis Wright
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