Monday, September 9, 2013

The Cozy and the Hard-Boiled

Yin and Yang or Yang and Yin:  
Broadchurch and The Bridge

     Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. offer two remarkable TV series – Broadchurch on BBC America and The Bridge on FX.  Thank you DVR or I’d never see them.  These shows are polar opposites, even though they are both crime shows.   

     Broadchurch comes out of what is patronizingly referred to as ‘the cozy’ tradition.  This is generally a crime sub-genre, usually by British (not always) fiction writers that concentrates
on one or linked murders, examines characters psychologically in one specific setting – usually a town, but sometimes a suburb or a couple of neighborhoods in a city – and eschews gratuitous violence.  The detective may be wounded, in some way, but has a sharper moral compass, and the guilty party will usually be a surprise, either because of her/his identity or the emotional explanation of motive.

     The Bridge is ‘hard-boiled’, which began as an American private eye sub-genre that then led to the police procedural of detectives working on multiple cases that may or may not be linked.  Georges Simenon simultaneously developed the hard-boiled in Belgium.  Ed McBain and, more currently, Ian Rankin and Jo Nesbo are major hard-boiled practitioners.  The cops investigate multiple homicides and other type of crime cases, mixed with lots of violence, bad behavior by the cops and robbers, and always my feeling that the climactic revelation of the guilty won’t top the build-up.  

     Broadchurch is a small, English coastal fishing and tourist town where a child has been murdered.  DI Hardy (David Tennant, formerly Doctor Who) and DS Miller (Olivia Colman, TV’s Beautiful People and Queen Elizabeth in Hyde Park on Hudson) are the main investigators.  He’s been brought in after a highly publicized failed case and she thought she’d receive his job since she’s lived in Broadchurch her whole life and is very conscientious.  Both are fragile characters and the actors physicalize them with subtlety and depth.  This is fortunate, since Hardy’s Scottish is sometimes incomprehensible.  Usually, I’m ticked when subtitles are used on shows like Honey Boo Boo, but they’d be useful for American audiences with Broadchurch.  Colman is the heart and soul of the show, her character stunned that a murder has happened so close to home and that she cannot trust anyone or anything that is second nature to her.   She looks like someone putting in sixteen-hour days and who can’t find the time to fix her hair or have her husband press her suit.  

     Broadchurch examines the townsfolk, setting, and the psychological state of the cops and the main suspects with tact, dignity, and some absolutely gorgeous cinematography.  It’s slow going, though.  I could have cut about 20% by now and I haven’t seen so many shots of solitary man or woman gazing pensively to the sea as the viewer ascribes various emotions since Bergman’s ‘60s movies.  There have been a couple of red herrings already (one of which I saw coming, but not the other).  However, the pain of such an event has been wholly manifested.

     The Bridge has been a wild carnival crime ride.  What began as a bizarre double murder on the bridge between El Paso and Juárez that Mexican Detective Marco Ruiz (Demián Bichir) and American Detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) are thrown into solving together has jumped into a study of the bicultural socio-political border that inculcates both a legitimate tourist economy and an illegal immigration and drug economy.  There’s so much that could be dealt with in this culture and, fortunately, subtitles are used because most of the major characters are bilingual.  In the past couple of weeks, however, a former FBI agent turned criminal mastermind with a years long vendetta against Ruiz has emerged.  Really?  What about the Sr. and Sra. Big Criminals, the serial killer(s) operating in Juárez, the possible motivation of American leisure for  criminal activities, etc.?  Oh, another criminal mastermind – please don’t turn into a Spanglish Batman and Batgirl.  

     One recent episode featured a hilarious sex scene shocker between aged smuggler Graciela Rivera played with sullen relish by Alma Martínez and crooked dude Ray (Brian Van Holt) climaxing (literally) in an image that recalled tantalizingly what the Wicked Witch of the East may have been up to (or down for) when Dorothy’s house fell on her.  Later, a garrulous, overeager sheriff’s deputy had most of his head blown off very suddenly.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the camera lingered twice over his wrecked body.  What was the point beyond admiring the incredible make-up and special effects?  It was appalling and worse than anything Sam Peckinpah was reviled for doing and it had none of the gross out humor of Sam Raimi’s early movies.  It was disgusting and gratuitous.  

     Broadchurch’s problem is that it’s a little too safe, contained, and polite, though it’s raised the specter of pedophilia.  The Bridge’s problem is that it’s so ambitious, daring, and provocative that it may have spit out everything that made it interesting and is going after an easy solution without tying up any of its plot strands.  James Ellroy’s White Jazz (1992) suffered somewhat from that after the brilliance of its three predecessors in the L.A. Quartet (1987 – 1992) so he turned instead to the J.F.K. assassination.  Stephen King did likewise publishing 11/22/63 in 2011, even though as he well knows Don DeLillo offered the best recreation and solution in Libra (1988).

The Duos from Broadchurch and The Bridge
     Both seem like they should be one time only mini-series, but Broadchurh has already broadcast a second season on British television and I’m sure The Bridge will be renewed.  Yet, how can DS Miller face the town after this season’s murderer is revealed and how can Detective Ruiz remain semi-permanently in El Paso?

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