So much about the pilot for ‘Crossing Lines’ – NBC’s new summer crime drama that debuted Sunday night – is so well-executed that I’m almost willing to recommend you watch it. Almost.
Set in Europe, ‘Crossing Lines’ follows the adventures of an elite team of the world’s best crime solvers cobbled together by fame-craving Major Louis Daniel (Marc Lavoine) and watched over by ICC honcho Michael Dorn (Donald Sutherland). The star of the ensemble cast, however, is character actor William Fichtner (Heat, Armageddon, The Dark Knight) playing Carl Hickman, a former NYPD detective whose storied career was ended through shady means.
The premise has a very deliberate “assembling the team” vibe, a la ‘Ocean’s 11’, so much so that one of the team members even makes a “Justice League” reference on the show. There’s the tech expert, the interrogation expert, the memory expert, the weapons expert, and so on.
One of the major problems that young ensemble crime dramas run into is a lack of distinction between characters, and you would think that would be of extra concern to a show with an almost exclusively white cast like ‘Crossing Lines’ (Ice T isn’t walking through that door!). However, the distinct role for each character instantly helps, as do their differing accents. Though I was only able to pick up 2 or 3 characters’ names during the pilot, I generally had little difficult distinguishing between members of the ensemble, which is a plus.
The pilot tells the story of a man who has been abducting women, transporting them across Europe, then setting them loose in parks to hunt down and murder. Despite objections from local agencies, the team is officially put together and sanctioned to catch the killer, and the bulk of the pilot’s two hours is devoted to the ensuing investigation. Stakes are raised when one of the team members is abducted by the killer and set to become his latest victim, and a surprise twist at the end injects some much-needed humanity into the proceedings.
But for as much as I appreciate what ‘Crossing Lines’ tried to do with this pilot, it never stopped feeling like a paint-by-numbers exercise in creating a network drama. Granted, the people behind the show are VERY adept at painting by those numbers, but that can only take you so far. Aside from a couple cringe-worthy missteps that you’d expect from a young show – the voiceover at the start is truly horrendous, and probably turned off a good number of viewers right off the bat – the writing is mostly fine, but lacks any real spark.
To me, it feels like ‘Crossing Lines’ had a checklist of ways to be an interesting show. Give all the main characters distinct things to do and a distinct accent? Check. Shoehorn in a juicy backstory for every major character (like the Irish cop whose father has a hit out on him)? Check. Put one of the main characters in harm’s way to raise the stakes? Check. Deliver a big, memorable moment in the final act? Check.
It’s all well done, but it’s also all entirely within the lines. What the ‘Crossing Lines’ pilot so sorely lacks are real, juicy character-driven scenes. I’m not talking about one member of the team overhearing another’s phone call at the office, or brief flashbacks to the team lead’s broken family life. I mean REAL moments, entirely separate from the task at hand, that are allowed to play out over an extended scene (Lord knows the 2-hour pilot would have allowed for such a scene). Moments that don’t have a gift-wrapped purpose, some super obvious clue expressly designed to pass information onto the audience.
The great pitfall of network dramas, in my opinion, is the need for every scene to serve a purpose that is immediately apparent. Literally every scene in this pilot has a functional purpose that is immediately decipherable. There is virtually no subtext. Just text. Each scene is either advancing the narrative of the episode in some way, or it’s clearly setting the stage for a future narrative.
To me, that’s not interesting, and that’s why I had trouble fully engaging with ‘Crossing Lines’ and can’t recommend it to you unless you’re a fan of network crime procedurals.