Review: NBC's 'Crossing Lines' takes 'Criminal Minds' formula to Europe
In the new NBC drama "Crossing Lines" (Sunday at 9 p.m.), character actor William Fichtner plays Carl Hickman, a legendary former NYPD detective, whose career ended with a disability. He now lives in a trailer behind an Amsterdam carnival and has a job picking up trash with a stick, which seems about all he's capable of, physically or emotionally, until French colleague Louis Daniel (Marc Lavoine) recruits him for a new, extra-fancy international crime task force. This group, consisting of cops from France, England, Ireland, Germany and other countries, will investigate crimes that transcend any one jurisdiction, with each member providing both a different cultural perspective and their own unique skill set (the Irish cop specializes in weapons and tactics; the German one has lots of cool gadgets). And all they need to be complete is Carl and his gift for criminal profiling.
"It's like we're the Justice League or something," Carl jokes — prompting one of his new foreign partners to look up the reference on his phone, before they all go off to chase a serial killer who throws women in the trunk of his car before chasing them through parks and stabbing them repeatedly.
It is, in other words, "Criminal Minds: Europe," with the usual stories of creepy men and the women they terrorize being punctuated by continental scenery and moments where one cop's local idiom has to be translated for the others.
The series was created by longtime "Criminal Minds" producer Edward Allen Bernero, and is one of several international co-productions NBC has tried over the past few years to provide cheap scripted summer programming. Watching the two-hour pilot episode, you can imagine the entire thing being assembled with the foreign sales pitch in mind: Look, it's the kind of American format that translates for the rest of the world, you'll be able to market it in every country that one of these cops is from, and we'll make sure to constantly stop and explain things for each audience! (In one scene, the British cop notes that a pair of shoes cost 1500 pounds, prompting one of the other detectives to declare, "That's almost 2000 Euros!" No monetary system left behind!)
This kind of arrangement doesn't have to be so nakedly mercenary and formulaic. NBC just concluded the first season of another international co-production about serial killers, but "Hannibal" was everything "Crossing Lines" declines to be: imaginative and thoughtful and genuinely scary. "Crossing Lines" is just putting in the minimum effort to do its job.
Fichtner, who did a long stint on "Prison Break" (and has headlined short-lived dramas like "Invasion" and "MDs"), does some solid work as the damaged American, and the ensemble as a whole — including Donald Sutherland as a lawyer at The Hague who helps authorize the group's existence, and Tom Wlaschiha (Jaqen H'Ghar from "Game of Thrones") as the German tech expert — is strong. The production values from shooting in Europe are also excellent, and other than some shots of the Eiffel Tower to establish location, the show doesn't suffer from the need to put a major landmark in the back of every shot when the cops go from country to country.
There's potentially a very interesting show about cops from different cultures, with different methods of policing, learning to work together. Based on the pilot, at least, "Crossing Lines" just treats all that as window dressing for the same old, same old.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org