‘Under the Bridge’ navigates the familiar true-crime waters of troubled teens

Despite being based on a grim true-crime yarn, “Under the Bridge” makes several poor choices in translating the book to the screen, beginning with inserting the author, Rebecca Godfrey, into the story. This bridge into the familiar waters of troubled teens thus proves most notable as Lily Gladstone’s follow-up to “Killers of the Flower Moon,” albeit in a rather drab role as the local cop investigating the case.

The heart of this eight-episode Hulu series deals with 14-year-old Reena Virk (Vritika Gupta), whose palpable longing to fit in with her peers unfolds against the backdrop of knowing some of them took part in beating and killing her. Those events shocked the Canadian town of Victoria in 1997, providing the foundation for Godfrey’s book.

Like “13 Reasons Why,” the controversial Netflix series, and before that fare like the 1986 movie “River’s Edge,” the story traffics in the unsettling callousness of teens even before the modern era of social media. Reena’s disappearance, and eventual discovery, also serves as every parent’s nightmare, with Archie Panjabi (“The Good Wife”) and Ezra Faroque Khan as her understandably frantic and then devastated mom and dad.

Told through flashbacks, “Under the Bridge” errs by creating a separate thread around Rebecca (Riley Keough, fresh off another streaming show in “Daisy Jones & the Six”), a writer returning to her hometown who experienced her own tragedy there years before. Almost immediately, she reconnects with the sheriff, Cam (Gladstone), with whom she shares history, while conducting what amounts to a parallel real-time investigation into what transpired.

Vritika Gupta as Reena in "Under the Bridge." - HULU
Vritika Gupta as Reena in "Under the Bridge." - HULU

It’s an awkward, not-very-convincing construct, as are most of the details surrounding Rebecca and Cam, which feel strained or simply tired. The former almost immediately feels sympathy for those who might have been responsible, while the latter grapples with working for her dad (Matt Craven).

Those elements represent distractions from the fundamental issues of what happened to Reena, what motivated her attackers and the collective silence from her peers that followed the tragedy.

Indeed, the series fares considerably better when its focus shifts to the teens, including Chloe Guidry as the cruel ringleader of the girl gang – known dismissively in police circles as “Bic girls,” a reference to the disposability of Victoria’s troubled youths – and Javon “Wanna” Walton (“Euphoria”) as one of the boys involved.

Adapted by writer-producer Quinn Shephard (“Not Okay”), “Under the Bridge” builds modest suspense around the specific details regarding who killed Reena, but that can’t entirely offset its questionable structural decisions. The flaws don’t diminish the heartbreaking nature of the story at its core, but they do make wading through eight episodes of this limited series at times feel like a bridge too far.

“Under the Bridge” premieres April 17 on Hulu.

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