The Bridge

With so many crime dramas on TV, you'd think murder would be a universal language. But FX's The Bridge (Wednesday, 10/9c), an unusually timely and troubling mystery series set on the volatile border between Texas (sleepy El Paso) and Mexico (dangerous, corrupt Juarez), uses grisly symbolism to remind us that not all victims are created equal.

The phantom killer here is driven by a social conscience, taunting police on both sides of the cultural divide: "Why is one dead white woman more important than so many dead just across the bridge?" He makes his point by leaving the body of a female anti-immigration judge from Texas on the actual border, severed in two: one half in the U.S., the other in Mexico, and the shocks don't stop there. The complex case, which soon expands to involve a burned-out reporter (Matthew Lillard), a rich widow (Annabeth Gish) and a truckload of ill-fated illegal migrants, brings together a truly odd couple of investigators in a turf war that might as well be called "Whose Crime Is It Anyway."

From El Paso, there's beautiful but bizarre Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger), who's afflicted with an Asperger's-like lack of social and professional decorum so pronounced she doesn't think twice about changing her outfit in the middle of the precinct. From Juarez, and far more credible, the relatively laid-back and scruffily appealing Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir) is perhaps the last honest cop left on a corrupt force that's all too eager to look the other way when hundreds of young dispossessed girls disappear from Mexico every year.

"You should try harder," Sonya barks at him, unaware of how rude and inappropriate she comes off (shades of The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper). While Kruger's performance is convincing and intriguing, her character begs the question of how someone so unable to communicate could ever be promoted to a position where nuanced interrogation and interaction with suspects is a must. Thankfully, Bichir grounds the show with a sheepish, weary tenacity. Ruiz is as dedicated, if not as dogged, as Sonya, a family man who's more of a realist when it comes to compromise. They're an unconventional pair caught up in a fascinating dark puzzle, but it's Ruiz I'd put my money on to crack the case and keep viewers coming back.

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GREETINGS FROM CAMP LIBIDO:
Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh: Come get me. Something's in the water here at Little Otter Family Camp. I don't mind the bugs, but it's the hormones that are out of control.

Camp Grenada it's not. And hard to tell just who the clientele for NBC's new comedic drama Camp is meant to be. Even if it weren't too gamy for kids, it airs awfully late (10/9c). Too silly and slight for grown-ups, too corny for the MTV generation, Camp is like an overheated ABC Family potboiler — and it makes us miss that channel's short-lived, more poignant Huge from three summers ago.

The show's primary asset is the Otter-ly charming Rachel Griffiths as the summer camp's newly divorced and overwhelmed owner, but even she is not immune to the adults-are-idiots plotting that puts more of a focus on the sex-obsessed adolescent counselors — including her breast-fixated son (Charles Grounds), who's heard complaining, "This place is a porn desert." Which doesn't stop him from becoming the butt of a masturbation joke. Camp's sexual slapstick is ultimately harmless, but if you've sent your kids away for the summer, this may not be the best show to watch if you want a good night's sleep.

THE WEDNESDAY GUIDE: A week late for the 4th of July, but there's a patriotic theme to the Showstopper round in the season finale of CBS's mouth-watering The American Baking Competition (9/8c). With only three contestants left — Southern life-of-the-party Francine (the next Paula Deen?), earnest Darlene and partially redeemed last-man-standing Brian — the challenge to decide the winner of $250,000 and a cookbook contract boils down to putting peanuts in the Signature Bake and producing 72 flag-inspired mini-desserts for the Showstopper. ... PBS' Secrets of the Dead expands to two hours to tackle the legend of Egyptian King Tutankhamun in Ultimate Tut (check tvguide.com listings), during which Egyptologist Chris Naunton uses modern forensics and graphics to try to explain how the Boy King lived and, more to the point, died. ... Guest star alerts: Community's Danny Pudi is an out-of-control Hamptons shock jock on USA Network's Royal Pains (9/8c). ... Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks, Party Down) is an insurance actuary accused of murder on TNT's Franklin & Bash (9/8c). ... Clueless co-stars Donald Faison and Stacey Dash reunite on TV Land's The Exes (10:30/9:30c), when Phil falls for a woman who has just been re-virginized. Maybe if he wants some action, he could go to Little Otter Family Camp.

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