Stellar young cast in Under the Bridge elevates the show beyond a typical crime drama focused on a murdered girl

There are so many cop shows and murder shows about innocent dead girls who end up being less innocent. Most are just depressing stories about other people suffering, real or fake. A few shows rise above the tropes through great storytelling and deeper themes. Under the Bridge, premiering April 17, doesn’t reach those other shows. But thoughtful, understanding writing and strong performances make it more than a typical dead-girl show.

On November 14, 1997, 14-year-old Reena Virk joined some teens near a bridge in Saanich, British Columbia but never came home. Under the Bridge loosely adapts the true crime book about Reena’s case by Rebecca Godfrey, played in the series by executive producer . A writer who grew up in the area but hasn’t visited in years for reasons related to her brother’s death when they were kids, Rebecca is there to research a book she’s calling Victoria Girls. She starts poking around the local girls’ group home, Seven Oaks, just in time to get the story on Reena’s (Vritika Gupta) disappearance.

Hers is just one perspective shown. Oscar nominee Riley Keough co-stars as Cam Bentland, a young cop working the case with her adoptive father Roy Bentland (Matt Craven), a police chief with a habit of cutting corners and pressuring witnesses to get what he wants. Cam, who is Indigenous and spent time at Seven Oaks, dreams of leaving this small community through a transfer to Vancouver—something more likely if she cracks a high-profile case like Reena’s. Two of the frenemies Reena met up with at the bridge, Josephine Bell (Chloe Guidry) and Dusty Pace (Aiyana Goodfellow), live at Seven Oaks. Jo is the charismatic, changeable queen bee, a girl obsessed with John Gotti and gangsta rap. Her best friend Kelly Ellard (Izzy G.) rounds out their fake “Crip Mafia Cartel” gang.

Under the Bridge also spends time with the Virks, Jehovah’s Witnesses of Indian descent rocked by their daughter’s rebellion long before she vanished. Reena fights constantly with her strict, religious mother, Suman (). After girls at school bully Reena for hairy legs, Suman walks in on her shaving and says caring what others think is “paganism.” Under the Bridge creator Quinn Shephard (Not Okay) skillfully uses the Virks’ mixed identities, contrasting tensions in the household with the blunt prejudice they face in a community where Suman’s side of the family has lived for three generations. The show so effectively sets up this dynamic now that an episode largely tracing Reena’s roots, from her grandparents’ arrival in British Columbia to her parents’ courtship, feels unnecessary.

Sometimes the show gives viewers too much information—perhaps trying too hard to do justice to the true story or Godfrey’s book, who died in 2022. It makes sense that Cam and Rebecca, who now must work together to find the truth, grew up together and have a complicated history. But Cam’s own backstory with her father has enough details and twists for its own miniseries. And Rebecca returning to her hometown with a manuscript so relevant to Reena’s case seems made up. Under the Bridge can also get silly in depictions of the author working. Watching her speak full paragraphs of fancy words into a recorder is hard not to cringe at.

Luckily, the show is compelling enough to overcome occasional silly moments. Many crime dramas from the past decade repeat the same basic ideas about how race and class intersect with the justice system, but Shephard avoids broad generalizations. She understands the specifics of not just Reena’s background but every character caught up in her story. Assumptions turn out to be misleading trails, for investigators and viewers alike. Shephard also sees how different social groups interact: small-town police, parents from various economic and racial statuses, teenage girls who think they’re tougher than they are.

The acting is even better than the writing. Gladstone’s Cam hides a lifetime’s worth of anger—about her upbringing, about always feeling like an outsider—under a calm face. Keough makes a great questionable journalist who manipulates Jo and does acid with teen burnouts, partly because she still hasn’t gotten over her own moody goth phase but also because she convinced herself when she was their age that she’s a bad person. The younger actors are just as remarkable. Guidry’s Jo is the kind of girl everyone knows, magnetic and scary at once. She’s the sun that Reena, Dusty, and Kelly revolve around, each in her own completely convincing way. Javon “Wanna” Walton brings empathy to the hard role of their friend Warren Glowatski. Through these performances, Under the Bridge changes our assumptions to strongly show the difference between what people say, do, how they’re seen, and who they really are.