From the depths of the lockdown commissioning basement comes The Bridge (Channel 4), not a Scandinavian murder mystery, but a kind of televised office team-building exercise. Twelve strangers (in a Covid bubble, it is hastily explained) are sent to a cabin by a reservoir in north Wales. All they know beforehand is that they’re going to try to win £100,000. They don’t know how until they get there and discover they have 20 days to build a wooden bridge to an island 850ft away across the water, where the cash lies in a metal box.
The contestants are mainly young, with the kinds of jobs – PR, hotel entertainer, plumber, fashion designer – that suggest they haven’t spent much time building bridges. Luckily there are instruction books at the cabin, as well as piles of timber and rope. Those hoping for an Open University course in engineering will be disappointed. The focus is on group dynamics, rather than the technicalities of bridge building.
The problem from the start, which The Bridge never finds a way around, is that while bridges are interesting, the process of building a bridge is not. Given the nightmare of the world outside, it might be soothing to watch people chopping and sawing and getting along with each other, but it would be a different kind of series, and you can see why the producers thought it wouldn’t sustain five hours on Sunday nights.
Instead, they resort to the usual tricks to sow discord. Messages are heralded by a flare being shot off from a tower, for no obvious reason. The first job is to vote for a team leader, a popularity contest won by Zac, a stripper. Then a couple are sent off an on overnight trip and presented with a choice between individual greed and the good of the group. These formats all become elongated versions of the prisoner’s dilemma, and the contestants are long since wise to it. Unavoidably, the bridge-as-metaphor lies heavily over the whole enterprise. Maybe the real bridge will turn out to be the enemies they make along the way?
With the traditions of the format so well established, a programme like this lives or dies by its casting. On the evidence of the first episode, there are too many affable youngsters for a truly gripping dynamic. These clean-cut, thoughtful men and women mainly want to get along and win the money. There’s a whiff of furlough about the cohort, and you wonder if coronavirus restricted the pool of applicants.
Easily the best character is the well-named Sly, the elder statesman, an infuriating egotist marked by personal tragedy. He’s the only member of the group with relevant experience, as a car fabricator. That ought to be helpful, but he is by turns precious and overbearing, a moody man-baby who takes even the mildest criticism as a grave insult. He refuses to volunteer for the team leader election but immediately sets about undermining Zac, and straightforwardly bullies the likeable Billie, whose claim to fame is being the daughter of daytime TV legend Trisha Goddard. If Sly continues in the same vein there might yet be a murder, especially given the number of axes around, but it wouldn’t be much of a mystery.
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