INTERVIEW: The Bridge leads to grey areas behind the thin blue line

The Bridge leads to grey areas behind the thin blue line
By: Joshua Ostroff
Date: March 3rd, 2010
Interviewees: Alan Di Fiore and Aaron Douglas
Source: Eye Weekly



There’s no lack of cop shows on TV. Never has been. They fill too many essential criteria to become passé — workplace drama, mystery solving, random violence — and police officers make easy heroes because, ideally, they protect the public. Except, of course, when they don’t.

That’s the territory into which The Bridge crosses. Inspired by the controversial career of former Toronto police union boss Craig Bromell — who serves as executive producer — the new CTV series revolves around beat-cop-turned-union-rabble-rouser Frank Leo (Battlestar Galactica’s “Chief” Aaron Douglas).

“Anybody in the public domain is going to be controversial,” Douglas says recently during a break from shooting at a Toronto waterfront parking garage. “JFK, there were people who didn’t like him. Obviously. But there are a lot of warts. [Bromell] has no problem showing his faults, his foibles, the mistakes he’s made. The show will be very balanced.”

Few cop serials have delved into union politics. Police unions don’t exist to protect the public but to protect the police, even when they harm the public. The Bridge’s two-hour pilot doesn’t pussyfoot around this notion — there’s no politically correct crackdown on arguably excessive force. Instead, Leo’s concerned with protecting some cops who accidentally kill a teenage boy.

In another incident that occurs before he becomes union boss, Leo is among a group of officers who fire 68 bullets into a grandma who, though involved in some nefariousness, is still a grandma. The first time we meet Leo he’s blustering to a young kid: “don’t fight me little man, I’ll throw you into traffic, I swear I will.”

Those words came from Alan Di Fiore, an award-winning writer who had previously worked on the series Da Vinci’s Inquest, inspired by Vancouver coroner-turned-mayor Larry Campbell. But while Campbell was a consultant, Bromell has actual creative control.

“Craig is a very smart guy and he knows that there are going to be various takes on his life, so we’re basically trying to show his perspective,” Di Fiore says, acknowledging the Rashômon-like danger of showing differing points of view. “We also want to honestly show how other people felt about it, too. Obviously, we’re telling his story to a certain extent, but I want to emphasize it’s inspired by his life. Frank Leo isn’t Craig Bromell. He is, and he isn’t.”

Given CTV’s co-production deal with CBS, who bought Flashpoint but have yet to put The Bridge on their prime-time sked, obvious Toronto references have been scrubbed. Still, the “Bridge” is basically Bromell’s old 51 Division, incorporating both Rosedale and Regent Park.

The wildcat strike that Bromell led in real life, precipitating his election as union boss, does makes it into the show and seems shockingly unheroic to a civilian eye. There’s corruption shown at all levels, including the self-serving police brass and sleazy politicians, but ultimately The Bridge seems to sell Bromell’s line that Internal Affairs and the civilian-run Police Board are detrimental to policing.

When someone asks Leo if he thinks cops should be held to a higher standard, his response is “not when it is being used to screw with them.” Later, a prosecutor is disparaged as a dangerous “zealot” because “he really believes he is protecting the public from bad cops,” as if that weren’t admirable. Certainly, Leo doesn’t seem admirable when smirking that the “contagious fire” shooting spree at grandma’s truck was necessary because, “it was a really big pickup.”

“Many cop shows are watered down and pure-hero and it all wraps up at the end and the bad guy gets caught,” says Douglas. “The [real-life]cops aren’t always the ‘good guys.’ They make mistakes. They’re doing it with the best of intentions, but they’re real people.”

Watching the rank and file grumble about use-of-force restrictions as their union leader rages against oversight makes it hard to root for the beat cops, even in the face of dangerous streets and corrupt management, because they seem to be fighting for a freer hand to beat people down.

By showing what Di Fiore calls “the things that happen to cops between the things that happen to cops,” The Bridge removes the police force’s perennial white hat to reveal the many shades of grey behind that thin blue line.