Crossing Lines

Crossing Lines debuts tonight on NBC at 9 p.m. Eastern.

Crossing Lines is sloppy, hacky crime drama, one that does not attempt to be anything more than just another procedural, albeit with a few quirks of its own that liven up the proceedings. It eagerly latches onto what feel like, at this point, some of the oldest tricks in the book—serial killers, victimized white women, fantastical gadgetry, and unlimited funds. At this point, Serial killers are a dime a dozen on television. Sexualized violence against women clogs the proverbial tubes. It’s tiresome to endure yet another two-hour pilot rehashing the same gory particulars—Was she a prostitute? Did he have her wear those clothes? Why did he stab her? Did he rape her before he killed her, or after? 

And yet Crossing Lines iteration of the formula is entertaining enough to save it from total disaster. Donald Sutherland’s meaningless stunt-cast role aside, the premise has enough quirks of its own to be somewhat interesting. The two-hour pilot focuses on a serial killer working across borders—murdering women in parks in such exotic locales as Paris, Dublin, and London. Our heroes are a team of investigators with the International Criminal Court, so there’s the added benefit of the case being investigated in a variety of remarkable accents. Tommy has an Irish brogue; Sienna, a clipped, aristocratic British English. Annemarie and Louis offer French; Sebastian, German. But everyone speaks English, naturally—though English isn’t the official language of the ICC, it’s the official language of kicking ass.

The first quarter of the première uses the latest serial murder—last night, in Paris—as a catalyst to assemble a (all together now) crack squad of elite agents, genius investigators with (you guessed it) messy personal lives. Almost all of the police agents have “personal demons” of some sort. The ones that make it into tonight’s première are: an estranged wife and murdered child; a morphine addiction; cold-hearted parents who forget their daughter’s birthday; a criminal father who has a hit out on his son. Needless to say, each agent has both their weakness and their specialty—manipulative interrogation, technical know-how, impeccable memory, ability to kill people in five seconds using just dental floss and these wits.

It’s all rather predictable, and unfortunately the directing choices largely serve to make a hacky crime drama seem even hackier. Overacting abounds; the score does its part to make every scene feel overwrought, especially in the back half of the pilot. The plot shamelessly exploits the viewer’s emotions; first throwing a hint of romance into nearly every heterosexual combination of characters, then brutally victimizing the women in two of the pairings. Too much time is spent screaming grief at someone or other’s abduction or murder; on one hand, the show desensitizes you to its violence, and on the other, it expects the viewer to feel the flailing grief and rage that the characters express.

And yet.

Buried in all of the formula are moments that appear as if they are transplanted from another production—a surprisingly geniune camaraderie between the agents, who immediately launch into a flirtatious, funny patter that never quite disappears, even when bodies are dropping left and right. It’s never quite wry enough to make a joke of the show itself, but it manages to gently mock the characters, in a way that makes them quite lovable, right from the get-go. The lynchpin of this group is William Fitchner’s Agent Hickman, a middle-aged, fired NYPD officer with a morphine habit who’s given up on crime to pick up trash at a carnival in Amsterdam. The opening episode sees his transformation from disgrace to redemption, as he kicks the smack addiction and re-exercises his investigative powers. Hickman’s a clichéd character—he’s got a wounded hand, a metaphor for his wounded heart—but Fitchner makes him so likable that it hardly matters if he’s warmed-over material, because he’s a lot of fun to watch.

So Crossing Lines straddles the line between easily dismissed and surprisingly watchable. A good illustration of this is the scene where Hickman is first introduced to the rest of the team. They regard him warily; he’s equally hesitant to reach out, burdened as he is by his still-healing hand and his existential shame. The French chief Louis makes the requisite introductions, and then the team of mostly young agents start talking, rattling off a long list of Hickman’s many accomplishments. They deliver their pronouncements en masse, working off of each other in a practiced, smooth way that is totally unrealistic but also embodies entirely our deepest fantasies for how slick and smart international agents must be. Hickman regards them impassively, taking in the theatre, and then dryly quips: “Well, that was a very impressive use of Google.”

This show is less about the plot and more about getting invested in the relationships between the characters. It’s kind of a crime soap, if that is a thing. The cases are interesting enough—the show’s premise means that much of the conversation is about foreign locations and jurisdiction issues, which is a change from the usual crime procedural—but the show’s strength (and probably, addictive quality) stems from the group dynamic of the show. It brings to mind The Avengers—a movie designed to be more about the highly entertaining way these characters play off of each other, instead of the action on-screen. The show saves itself from disaster with a surprising investment in character, even if the characters are mostly caricatures who make fun of each other’s accents. 

Stray observations:

  • What's perhaps most remarkable about Crossing Lines is how apolitical it is. Usually, crime that crosses borders is considered to be, you know, acts of war; but they take on a very niche type of crime, which is the sort committed by civilians in several different countries. There's surely some traction to be gained from serial murderers/rapists/thieves working across the Eurozone, but what does Interpol do, then? Plus, the ICC might investigate murders, but its main mandate is far larger and more heinous crimes, like genocide. It's hard to blame a summer crime drama for confusing all its international organizations, but it would be far more interesting to watch a show that truly took on the political implications of the ICC.
  • Seriously though, why is everyone speaking English, even when the French police officers are in France?
Filed Under: TV

More TV Club