Crossing Lines, NBC’s ten-episode Eurocrime entry into the summer-series derby, probably sounded like a great idea in the pitch meeting. Crime! Europe! Sexy cops! Paris! Donald Sutherland! Europe! The short-run series has done great things for basic cable, and the form’s limited scope (and cost) allows a network to try something new without needing it to become a blockbuster, so this makes all kinds of business sense for NBC. But how does the series work as a story? Well…
The setup: tortured, craggy French detective Louis Daniel (former-heartthrob-singer-turned-actor Marc Lavoine) recruits a gaggle of young, pretty, tortured cops from around the EU to work as an über-detective squad for the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Each member of the team has his/her own special talent: the German one (Tom Wlaschiha) works all the tech toys, the Irish one (Richard Flood) is the weapons guy, the Italian (Gabriella Pession) looks fabulous in a skin-tight minidress, and so on. The sole American (William Fichtner) is less young and less pretty, but makes up for it by being even more tortured and hooked on painkillers, to boot. Donald Sutherland is the squad’s protector and fixer within the ICC. The squad’s remit is to chase down border-crossing serial criminals, something of a leap from the ICC’s usual work prosecuting war crimes.
The series certainly looks good. It was shot in Paris, Nice, and Prague (which stands in for parts of Germany and other countries) and has all the gloss of a high-budget U.S. production. There’s nothing like narrow cobbled streets, centuries-old buildings, canals and market squares to tell us we’re not in L.A. or New York City anymore. The team’s headquarters in The Hague appears to be a renovated church, complete with endless flat-screen monitors, soft red brick and atmospheric haze in the rafters. The detectives travel between cities on high-speed trains (nothing you’ll see in a U.S.-made crime show), and each episode is a geography lesson if you haven’t looked at a map of Europe since grammar school. All this scene-setting suggests “not made here” loud and clear.
More candor and minor spoilers ahead...
Okay, but what about the story? I’ll put it this way: Munich-based Tandem Communications (now owned by France’s StudioCanal), in cooperation with France’s TF1 and Sony’s AXN channel, has produced an average American cop show that happens to be set in Europe.
Crossing Lines could be CSI: Netherlands or Criminal Minds Eurozone, except without quite as much actual police work. (Blame might belong to series creator Edward Allen Bernero, who spawned Third Watch and produces, yes, Criminal Minds.) The baddies-of-the-week for the first two episodes are serial killers and the third week’s villains are sadistic truckers, none of whom would be out-of-place in any random American crime series. In all three cases, the modest effort the team expends to find the perps begs the question of why the local police didn’t get to them first. The second episode’s crime story is almost perfunctory, as much of its air time is absorbed by the fallout from the team’s first-episode loss of one of its own and the kind of relationship-building that usually takes an entire season on a normal series. If Our Heroes only deal with cases the local PDs can’t solve, why isn’t it harder for them?
The crime-show tropes the series has exercised so far are also very familiar from a couple dozen American series. All of Our Heroes appear to have painful pasts, are grieving, or have chips on their shoulders. Major Daniel is the standard-issue immersed-in-work-to-bury-his-grief squad leader who has emotionally abandoned his hot, younger wife, who mourns for their martyred son. You won’t be shocked to learn that the team’s comely young French detective (Moon Dailly) gets nabbed by the first episode’s serial killer, which Makes the Case Personal™.
A lot of this would be excusable but for the greatest lost opportunity: it all feels so generic. Cobblestones and canals notwithstanding, the first three episodes could be plunked into any random American city and work almost unchanged. Maybe it’s the almost-perfect, almost-unaccented English that all the main characters speak; I have yet to hear one of them swear in German or yell in Italian. Or perhaps it’s because while the series moves through Europe, it doesn’t engage with Europe.
There are distinctly European issues that could be woven into the plots to remind us this isn’t Philadelphia: human trafficking from Africa and Eastern Europe, the fallout of EU-wide austerity and the hostility it engenders toward immigrant communities, heritage looting (the art-theft angle in the second episode came and went with blinding speed), the hunt for modern war criminals, and the residue of the continent’s Cold War divisions, just to name a few. How does criminal investigation differ between the various EU members, and how do Our Heroes adapt (or fail to adapt) to the differences? Other than the lack of suntans, how is this team different from the cops in Graceland?
I’m reminded of the 2008 Australian crime series The Strip, which was exactly what a Jerry Bruckheimer TV cop show would be if he ever decided to set such a show in Oz. It wasn’t a bad series, but take away the accents and it could have been happening in Santa Monica or Miami.
Through the magic of DVRs, I was able to watch the second episode of Crossing Lines right before that week’s Longmire. The latter show was everything Crossing Lines fails to be: anchored by interesting and different characters, its story deeply rooted in the place and culture in which it’s set. That Longmire episode (“Tell it Slant”) could never be dropped wholesale into downtown Chicago and have a hope of working. Too bad Tandem didn’t use that as a model, instead of Cold Case.
Crossing Lines airs on NBC on Sundays at 10 p.m. (9 CDT) through August.
Lance Charnes is an emergency manager and former Air Force intelligence officer. The characters in his international thriller Doha 12 swear in at least three different languages as they fight their way through three continents. He tweets (@lcharnes) about scuba diving, shipwrecks and archaeology, among other things.