Sometimes it’s best to go into a new TV series knowing little, but in the case of FX’s “The Bridge” (9 p.m. Wednesday), it’s important to know something about the lead American character. Otherwise, the first 15 minutes of the show will seem like a poorly acted, poorly written botch.
El Paso homicide detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) doesn’t much look the part of a typical TV homicide detective. She drives an old Bronco rather than a sedan and she constantly has headphones in her ears.
As “The Bridge” begins, she’s the first American officer on the scene when a body turns up on a bridge between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico. The victim is an American judge and Sonya is tasked with informing the woman’s husband, which she does with a limited amount of tact.
“I’m sorry if I didn’t employ empathy,” she says without much empathy.
It’s sort of like watching Temple Grandin as a police officer because it turns out that Sonya, like Grandin, is autistic. Specifically, Sonya has Asperger’s and she strictly follows rules. But “The Bridge” deploys this information so subtlety that it’s not initially clear, making it easy for one to dismiss the series as subpar and then flip the channel. That would be a mistake.
The longer it goes on — and the pilot runs 90 minutes — the more intriguing “The Bridge” becomes. The characters are not as immediately winning as those on FX’s “The Americans,” but the plot of the pilot raises a lot of questions that are likely to draw viewers back for episode two.
That includes how a rich woman (Annabeth Gish) fits into the story. She and her husband were in Mexico when he had a heart attack. Their ambulance back to the U.S. gets stopped on the bridge during the murder investigation, and Sonya, who’s all about protocol, refuses to let the ambulance pass.
Ultimately, her Mexican counterpart in the investigation, Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir, “Weeds”), allows the ambulance through, which sends Sonya into a rage.
The rich-woman plot seems unconnected to the murder investigation, but “The Bridge” continues to follow this character and offers one of the episode’s more intriguing unanswered questions.
But the primary focus of the pilot, written by Meredith Stiehm (“Homeland”) and Elwood Reid (“Cold Case”) and directed by Gerardo Naranjo, remains the murder probe, which takes some surprising turns even in this first hour. It’s those unexpected twists that intrigue most.
Though FX series are often driven by character development, “The Bridge” makes it difficult to embrace Sonya because of the way she’s introduced (Kruger, a native of Germany, offers an inconsistent American accent, which doesn’t help). “The Bridge” fares better when the focus is on Marco or on Sonya’s cowboy boss, Hank Wade (Ted Levine), whose plan to retire devastates Sonya in one of the few scenes painting Sonya in a more sympathetic light.
"I can’t be sweepin’ up for you forever,” Hank tells Sonya, who appears to never have considered that her protector might someday leave her on her own.
(One quibble with logic: If Hank is aware of Sonya’s dearth of empathy, why would he send her to talk to the husband of the dead judge? This seems like a preventable disaster.)
"The Bridge” goes home with Marco to introduce his family and it follows a shady character with mutton chops who may or may not have anything to do with the dead body found on the bridge.
By the end of the premiere, “The Bridge” has zigged and zagged in several unexpected directions that culminate in a nail-biter set piece. It’s enough to get viewers on board for another episode — if they’ve stuck with the show beyond its awkward first 15 minutes.