The last time CBS and CTV teamed up, the result was Flashpoint; a highly successful mix of action and emotion, following the exploits of an emergency task force, set in Toronto. The latest collaborative effort, The Bridge, follows a newly elected Police Union Chief, who after growing impatient with the manipulative influence of politics and bureaucracy on policing, aims to shake up city hall and put an end to corruption.
I'm a massive fan of Flashpoint and was excited to see the two networks come together once again. However, the idea of a show that centered around a pro-union premise, certainly did not appeal to me on paper. As far as I’m concerned, Unions are becoming an unnecessary evil within contemporary western society, often creating conflict in a desperate attempt to legitimize their own existence. But I am somewhat ignorant of the way Police Unions operate and due to the excess of cop shows currently on TV, I thought credit was due for at least trying a different angle
The pilot was produced as a two part episode that ran for approximately 1½ hours. I do recommend you watch these, as they are extremely important in introducing the characters and the murky world they inhabit. We are introduced to Frank Leo, played by Aaron Douglas (Battlestar Galactica), as a police officer who, when his friend and mentor commits suicide, begins a crusade to get him the police funeral he believes he deserves. With the success of this battle with the ‘brass’ he is volunteered to be the union representative in a second, more serious dispute, involving charges being brought against two of his colleagues.
Simply put, this all works as a demonstration of his leadership skills, no-nonsense attitude, and acts as a justification of his election as Union President. The acting and narrative are all excellent and I was pretty much captivated throughout the two part pilot. Behind all the politics and uniforms, it’s really just an underdog story of one man against the establishment and The Bridge, knows exactly which buttons to push. There is no confusion over what kind of characters these people are. They are more often that not somewhat shallow stereotypes: The hard-ass cop, the female detective who acts like one of the boys, the ruthlessly ambitious deputy chief and the nameless Police men and women looking for leadership. But it’s strength is in its simplicity, which allows the audience to relate to the conflicts and politics that exist within any workplace, whilst also having all the drama and excitement of a standard cop show.
Craig Bromell is the show’s executive producer and is a former police officer and president of the Toronto Police Association, so its pretty obvious where the inspiration for the Frank Leo character comes from. With a pretty standard episodic format, each week sees Frank working out some form of conflict within the Police department. There are some ongoing subplots involving certain characters, but they are pretty flimsy, usually revolving around relationships and past indiscretions.
Whether the subject is a dirty cop or a questionable shooting, Frank tends to insert himself into every investigation he comes across. It’s a necessary mechanism to create some exciting TV, but it is a little weird seeing an ex uniform-cop telling the serious crime detectives how to do their jobs.
We are provided with a kind of Robin Hood character who strong-arms the powerful, whilst disregarding the rules in favour of getting the job done. However, it may leave itself open to ridicule if Frank Leo simply continues to do everybody’s job for them. He’s already been a detective, a hostage negotiator and a Hooters waitress (ok one of them may have been a lie).
So far (I’m nine episodes in), I’ve enjoyed every one of Frank’s no-nonsense shenanigans. I am reminded of The Wire, although I am at pains to make the comparison, mostly due to the way we follow the intricacies of politics and power as much as we do the action and drama. However, I want to make it clear, do not expect the similarities to go much further than that. The Wire, is still the king of morally ambiguous Police/organised crime dramas. Frank’s interactions with the Police chief provide interesting insights into the kind of manoeuvring that must go on within every government and I hope they develop their little tug of war further.
The only problem I can foresee goes back to my original criticism surrounding the Unions. Frank is not out to see justice prevail, but to achieve greater security and more benefits for the members of the Police Department. The last episode I watched, saw Frank instigate a brutal beating of his old partner because the Officer had vowed never to kill a man again and had refused to load his gun. My moral compass doesn’t have North and South in quite the same directions as a Canadian Police Union President and so it’s often difficult to get behind his actions. Even in a show like Dexter, where the protagonist is a serial killer, we can still reconcile his actions with our own perception of right and wrong. This could go one of two ways. We could begin to see a change in the character, with Frank becoming intoxicated with power and could be tempted into corruption, with a format similar to The Shield. Alternatively, it could simply continue to portray its very own version of Union morality, which may find itself rejected by viewers down the road.
So far, the show is extremely promising and I definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys Flashpoint, The Shield, or The Wire. The action is well paced, exciting, and the political maneuvering is intriguing and can be quite the eye-opener. The characters and story do need development and there are some issues of plausibility, but it’s still very early days so I’m extremely optimistic with what I’ve seen so far. Rarely does a show land running and remain consistently entertaining as The Bridge has done. It seems the Americans and Canadians work well together… it’s aboot damn time.
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