Under The Bridge TV Review

Lily Gladstone and Riley Keough investigate a brutal murder in this true crime drama.

Last Updated on April 17, 2024

Under the Bridge review

Plot: Based on acclaimed author Rebecca Godfrey’s book about the 1997 true story of fourteen-year-old Reena Virk who went to join friends at a party and never returned home. Through the eyes of Godfrey and a local police officer, the series takes us into the hidden world of the young girls accused of the murder — revealing startling truths about the unlikely killer.

Review: While crime exists worldwide, North America’s glut of true crime stories is centered on the United States. We often take for granted that our neighbors in the Great White North are more than America’s nice neighbors or denizens of the Fifty-First State. Canada is a massive country with its own good and bad, with crimes just as heinous as anything we see in America. While the events depicted in Under The Bridge are not as scary as serial killer tales, the story it retells is every bit as disturbing. Chronicling the horrific murder of a teenage girl in 1997, Under The Bridge takes a look at a rash of crimes perpetrated by troubled youths and the impact it has on the victims, their families, and everyone involved. With a muted turn from Riley Keough and Lily Gladstone’s first major role since Flowers of the Killer Moon, Under The Bridge is an emotionally troubling story wrapped in a series that struggles to keep itself interesting.

Set in November 1997, Under The Bridge opens with a disclaimer that while this story is true, events have been altered for dramatic purposes. Not to undermine the shocking nature of the crimes that are committed in the series, but a bit more dramatization could have helped the series. The first episode introduces us to Reena Virk (Vritika Gupta), a second-generation Indian-Canadian whose parents are devout Jehovah’s Witnesses. Reena hangs out with a group of girls from a local youth home who smoke weed, commit crimes, and follow Josephine Bell (Chloe Guidry), a girl who idolizes mobster John Gotti and the West Coast Crips gang lifestyle. When Reena crosses Josephine, a fight results, after which Reena disappears. As her parents, Manjit (Ezra Farouke Khan) and Suman (Archie Panjabi), hope for her safe return, the investigation turns grim. What follows is a blend of investigation, journalism, and criminal law that spans eight episodes.

While the teen characters are at the forefront of this story, the adult protagonists frame the tale with their own baggage. Riley Keough portrays writer Rebecca Godfrey, who authored the book Under The Bridge is based on. Returning home to write about the teen girls of the small British Columbia town she grew up in. Sporting a choppy bob haircut and constantly smoking, Keough is haunted by a crime that impacted her family when she was a kid. The lead cop investigating the murder of Reena Virk is Cam Bentland (Lily Gladstone), who shares a past with Rebecca connected to that long-ago crime. Cam and Rebecca, former friends and now adversaries, share a decent amount of screen time together, but the bulk of Riley Keough and Lily Gladstone’s work is separate from one another. Keough’s investigation of the teen suspects allows her to forge a bond with Warren Glowatski (Javon Walton), with whom she feels a kinship. Cam has her own path as she tries to do right by the victim while positioning herself for a promotion to the Major Crimes unit. This also puts her on a direct path to discovering her own familial roots, connecting her, her adoptive father and boss Roy (Matt Craven), and the youth home many of the suspects live at.

Under the Bridge

Full of throwbacks to 1990s songs, including the titular Nirvana track and the music of Biggie Smalls, Under The Bridge reminded me quite a bit of True Detective: Night Country and the HBO limited series The Night Of. Both series dealt with similar crimes that impacted a minority main character. While Night Country handled the indigenous characters well and The Night Of focused on South Asian protagonists, Under The Bridge tries to tackle those elements but with more of a procedural angle. At times, Under The Bridge seems like an extended episode of Law & Order, albeit without the witty one-liners. This series is full of cliffhangers and twists that are meant to keep you glued to the screen, but it undermines the power of an already powerful story. The saving grace here is Lily Gladstone, who, once again, steals the show with a subtle yet strong performance. Riley Keough is good, but she does not have the energy or the presence that this character needs. Both actors shine when they share the screen, but only Gladstone thrives when they are apart.

Created for television by Quinn Shephard, who wrote and directed two episodes, Under The Bridge has some solid performances but sometimes struggles to fill eight hours of running time without the strain of wearing it thin. Fellow directors Geeta Patel, Kevin Phillips, Nimisha Mukerji, and Dinh Thai keep the colors muted and the tone somber. In contrast, director Catherine Hardwicke brings the sole big screen acumen to the production. Shephard adapted the series from Rebecca Godfrey’s book, and production began just as Godfrey passed away from cancer, but her impact on the story remains. The writing staff, including Ashley Cardiff, Jihan Crowther, Stuti Malhotra, Tom Hanada, Tom Crittenden, and Samir Mehta, all do a good job of giving us a look at the harsh lives these troubled teens live and how their lies completely change the path of everyone involved directly and tangentially. The problem is that the copious red herrings lessen the impact of this message and misdirects used to keep the series afloat for eight episodes.

With a great turn from Lily Gladstone, a solid performance from Archie Panjabi, and a decent one from Riley Keough, Under The Bridge tells a story that in and of itself was worthy of an adaptation. I am not convinced this series strikes the right balance, as it could have told just as strong of a narrative in half the number of episodes. At eight hours, Under The Bridge sometimes feels like a slog and not as tense or thrilling as it deserves to be. I commend the actors for their work here and feel even more proof now that Lily Gladstone is an actress of rare talent, but this production is too slow and too long to be worth the full investment. You could watch the first three episodes, wait for the finale, and find it just as engaging as the entire series. True crime buffs will find some worthwhile elements here, but anyone else may be underwhelmed.

Under the Bridge premieres on April 17th on Hulu.


Source: JoBlo.com

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Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.