To be honest, it’s rather a surprise that it’s taken Crossing Lines quite this long to get a first broadcast on a UK television channel. A US/European co-production between Sony Pictures Television and TF1 Productions, the series has already successfully completed two seasons (and is about to launch a third next month) and has enjoyed airings in Italy, France and Germany as well as on NBC in the US. It can boast a couple of Hollywood stars in its line-up in the form of William Fichtner and Donald Sutherland, and the whole production is headed up by Edward Allen Bernero who was the creator of the hit US television series Criminal Minds.
On the basis of the pilot episode (or rather, the first half of what was originally a two-hour feature-length opening story) that finally hit UK screens this week on the specialist crime entertainment digital channel Alibi, it’s soon clear that the mystery of its non-appearance here is pretty much the only surprising thing about the show. In every other respects the programme is almost entirely unremarkable.
That’s not to say that it’s bad, however – indeed, it’s perfectly watchable. It’s a machine-tooled police procedural, a jigsaw with all the pieces safely contained in the box all of which fit together with admirable precision to entirely acceptable levels of satisfaction. You’ve seen it all before, but at the same time you don’t really begrudge seeing it all over again with new faces and a different setting. Indeed it is the location shooting against various European backdrops that is the series’ unique selling point of distinction – there’s an early scene set in an Amsterdam amusement park for no other reason than it provides an unusual and characterful location. Quirky, but actually it works and is the most fun bit in the opening hour.
The series’ core premise is that of a brand new investigative team set up to apprehend criminals who are operating across various European national borders. The team works under the aegis of the International Criminal Court, but don’t spend too long dwelling on the fact that this makes no authentic legal or diplomatic sense in the real world. Just accept that it’s a way of allowing the series to range over various famous cities in different countries every week without having to spend half its time dealing with the bureaucratic red tape of eternally recurring jurisdictional matters like the real cops would have to do. After all, as the saying goes, drama is real life with the boring bits cut out.
The pilot episode sees the group being assembled to tackle its first case, a pan-European Jack the Ripper who is leaving the bodies of unidentified young women in public parks in various sundry capital cities. Since the team is just getting to know each other while looking into the case, they can also get to work applying their brilliant deductive skills on one another as well. That results in a pithy monologue from each of them in which they get to deconstruct their opposite number’s personality, thereby providing the audience with an infodump of that part of the series bible relating to character backstories. It’s not subtle, it’s not particularly clever or innovative, but it’s efficient in setting everything up with the minimum of fuss: it does the business allowing us to move briskly on. All of which rather sums up the show’s first episode as a whole.
So, to recap: Fichtner is the American on the team. He plays Carl Hickman, a brilliant former NYPD profiler who after a botched previous assignment has been left with a crippled hand that puts him in constant pain and with a consequent drug problem. He’s persuaded to join the new unit by its French police captain Louis Daniel (Marc Lavoine) alongside existing recruits Anne-Marie San (Moon Dailly), Eva Vittoria (Gabriella Pession), Sebastian Berger (Game of Thrones’ Tom Wlaschiha), Tommy McConnell (Richard Flood) and Sienna Pride (Genevieve O’Reilly). Their team receives its authority to act in the various sovereign nations from ICC bigwig Michel Dorn, played by Sutherland who gets to wander in for a one-scene cameo as circumstances require.
Maybe it’s Bernero’s name on the masthead, but this really does seem to draw heavily if not lazily on the original Criminal Minds set-up, with Fichtner very much a retake on Mandy Patinkin’s Jason Gideon character in being a genius profiler complete with doubts over his field readiness both physically and psychologically. Lavoine looks and acts rather along the lines of Thomas Gibson’s Aaron Hotchner, while Dailly’s character even has the eidetic memory and autistic traits which put her very much in the same wheelhouse as Dr Spencer Reid albeit without the same winning charm and charisma that made Matthew Gray Gubler the break-out star of Criminal Minds’ early seasons. The only difference is that the rest of the characters other than Hickman are not just profilers but have their own specialisms in weapons, undercover operations, interrogation techniques and so forth giving us more of a distinction between the line-up than Criminal Minds managed.
Somewhat inevitably the characters rely quite heavily in the first instance on national characteristic stereotypes, although not so much that it becomes offensive or even particularly irksome. Berger for example is the cool, efficient technology-minded German member of the team, McConnell is the hot-headed Irish charmer with a badboy/streetfighter edge, Pride is primly English while Vittoria oozes Italian sultriness. But hey, every series has to start somewhere and there’s only so much you can do in 45 minutes, so let’s cut it some slack and see where it goes.
That ‘safety first’ mantra in not overreaching right out of the gate is actually probably a very good idea, considering the show is having to navigate largely strange and unfamiliar waters in terms of getting such an ambitious co-production up and running that spans multiple companies, multiple countries and multiple languages both in front of and behind the camera. A lot could go wrong in this sort of complex environment and the best reference point is probably the short-lived procedural Jo starring Jean Reno that showed how difficult something like this can be to get off the ground without it all going horribly wrong. Like Crossing Lines, Jo was also headed up by a graduate of an US crime franchise (Law and Order’s Rene Balcer in that case) yet it turned out to be a complete dog’s dinner, a Europudding of the most stodgy and unedifying kind that fortunately quickly died without trace and with few regrets from anyone involved or watching – not that there were many of the latter by the end of just eight episodes.
So perhaps it’s very sensible not to get too ambitious out of the gate with this latest show, but rather to keep it safe and familiar until everyone finds their feet. The good news is that one episode in it’s managed not to put anyone off or provide any reasons not to watch further, which is surely half the battle won. What it needs to work on next is to give us proper reasons to actively want to tune in next week rather than hope we’ll happen across it and not be too badly put off, and that hasn’t quite kicked in yet. It needs to find a spark and dare to cross a few lines of its own to do that. It’s probably worth checking back for at least a week or two to see if it does, though.
Rating: ★ ★ 1/2
Crossing Lines continues at 9pm on Tuesdays on Alibi. There’s no UK DVD release date but the first series has been released on home media in other European countries.