Sometimes it's best to go into a new TV series knowing little but in the case of FX's "The Bridge" (10 p.m. Wednesday), it's important to know something about the lead American character, otherwise the first 15 minutes will seem like a poorly acted, poorly written mess.
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 wears earphones.
As "The Bridge" begins, she's the first American officer on the scene when a body turns up on a bridge between El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico. The victim is an American judge and Sonya is tasked with informing the woman's husband, which she does without much tact.
"I'm sorry if I didn't employ empathy," she says, without much empathy.
It's sort of like watching autism author Temple Grandin as a police officer because it turns out that Sonya, like Ms. Grandin, is autistic. Specifically, Sonya has Asperger's and she strictly follows rules. But "The Bridge" delivers this information so subtly that it's not clear right away, making it easy to change channels.
That would be a mistake.
"The Bridge" becomes more intriguing as it gets deeper into the pilot's 90-minute run time.The characters are not as immediately winning as those on FX's "The Americans," but the plot of the pilot raises plenty of questions that should bring viewers back.
Those include 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 them pass. Ultimately, her Mexican counterpart in the investigation, Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir, "Weeds"), allows the ambulance through, sending 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.
The primary focus of the pilot, written by Meredith Stiehm ("Homeland") and Elwood Reid ("Cold Case") and directed by Gerardo Naranjo, remains the murder investigation, 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 hard to embrace Sonya because of the way she's introduced (Ms. Kruger, a native of Germany, has an inconsistent American accent, which doesn't help). The show 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 that paints her in a 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: 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 follows a shady character with muttonchops who may or may not have anything to do with the 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 stayed past those awkward first 15 minutes.
Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.