The old real estate saying about the three keys to making sales also applies to crafting great television: It’s all location, location, location.
Consider FX’s The Bridge.
The original plan for this riveting crime drama, which premieres at 9 p.m. Wednesday, was for detectives from the United States and Canada to team up on a murder case with overlapping jurisdiction.
Then the producers had a eureka moment: Wouldn’t the story be more provocative, more topical, more visually stimulating and just plain better if they take it south to the border that separates the U.S. and Mexico?
Demian Bichir, who stars opposite Diane Kruger in The Bridge, is thrilled that they made the move. After all, the Mexican-born actor says, “I can’t play a Canadian.”
And nothing against our neighbors to the way north — “I think it also would be interesting to see how the United States and Canada might work together catching a serial killer,” Bichir says diplomatically — but the great divide between El Paso and Juarez just makes more sense when telling a tale of two cities, of two countries, of two cultures.
“This way has the added element of shining a light on some very important issues of the day, from illegal immigration into the United States to the drug cartel wars in Mexico,” says Bichir, who earned an Oscar nomination for his performance as an illegal immigrant in 2011’s A Better Life.
“I think our location makes the show double good, because it gives us an extra layer of story.”
The series opens with a dead woman found on the Bridge of the Americas over the Rio Grande. The upper half of the body lies on the U.S. side of the actual border line; the lower half is in Mexico.
Then comes the gruesome discovery that the corpse is two bodies, each dissected at the waist and pieced together. The upper half belongs to a prominent Texas judge; the lower part to a teen prostitute from Mexico.
This leads to the formation of a uniquely mismatched detective duo.
Sonya Cross of the El Paso Police (Kruger’s character) is brittle, distant and socially awkward. If The Bridge were science fiction, she’d be an android that wasn’t programmed to comprehend human emotions. But she has an eagle eye for detail that makes her a brilliant investigator.
Marco Ruiz of the Juarez P.D. (Bichir’s character) is warm and personable, a man of the mean streets who understands what makes people tick.
If these two can figure out how to work together without driving each other crazy, they might just manage to catch a truly twisted serial killer.
Kruger’s character has been made even more memorable because she is afflicted with a condition called Asperger syndrome, which is a high-functioning form of autism.
This character trait was the main attraction for the German-born actress, who is perhaps best known in the States as Nicolas Cage’s leading lady in the “National Treasure” movies.
“How can someone who has Aspergers excel at being a cop?” Kruger says. “That’s what drew me initially to the project. There are so many shortcomings in Sonya’s personal life that appear because of her condition. Yet in her job she has this ability to focus, to really look at things from a different point of view.
“I have never had a desire to play a cop. But this character is so different and such a challenge.”
Straight outta Sweden
The Bridge is based on a Scandinavian TV series of the same name. Kruger was a fan of the original. “We follow the skeleton of that show faithfully,” she says. “It has the same intrigue and plot.”
That said, the premise might be even better suited for El Paso and Juarez.
Bichir sees the differences between the two main characters as a metaphor for the chasm that exists between their respective countries.
“We both have very rich cultures, but we are different in many ways and we are on different sides of many issues,” he says. “It would benefit us all if we saw eye to eye on some of these things.”
Yet Bichir is also quick to add that The Bridge is by no means a documentary. “This is fiction, this is a mystery, this is entertainment,” he says.
Bichir even suggests that Juarez, a deeply troubled city to be sure, is also the victim of bad press.
“There are dangerous places everywhere, no matter where you go,” he says. “There are dark alleys in Paris that I would not want to walk down, night or day. Juarez does not have the monopoly on crime.
“There also are beautiful things about Juarez and Mexico. I hope we ultimately will get to show some of that side of my country as well.”