There are two conceivable premises for a television series based on global multilateralism: forcing obnoxious foreign ministers to live together in the same beachfront property for a summer, or allowing an elite team of forensic investigators to solve violent crimes in different countries. Unfortunately, a fist-pumping, shot-pounding Sergei Lavrov will have to wait -- as we've now been treated to the second, less satisfying option. If not quite in the Sharknado realm of implausibility, the new NBC drama Crossing Lines, which debuted on June 14, really isn't all that far from it.
The premise is that at a time when overly guarded jurisdictions and national sovereignties have got in the way of solid police work in Europe, the International Criminal Court (ICC) assembles a cosmopolitan cracker-jack cop squad, headquartered in a church-like basement at The Hague and tasked with tracking baddies across the continent as a kind of CSI: Rome Statute. (Suffice to say, no such force exists; ICC cops remain a thing of Fetou Bensouda's imagination.)
As in any good ensemble crime series, each member of the team is equipped with his or her own unique -- but complementary -- skill set, ranging from psychological profiling to computer hacking to state-of-the-art weapons expertise. Helping keep the forensic work to a cool 40 minutes-plus-commercials is a dedicated helicopter (which I doubt the real ICC can afford), and a remarkable device that holographically recreates crime scenes using laser beams. (If one of these has already been invented, then it'd shave a few decades off the Special Tribunal for Lebanon's fact-finding mission.) The team's true superpower, however, is their transnational legal authority that trumps anything that local gendarmeries or interior ministries can throw at them.
That sounds exciting at first, until one consults Article 5 of the actual statute establishing the court, which stipulates that the ICC's jurisdiction encompasses only genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. Needless to say, these apply to state or para-state institutions. Yet the targets of Crossing Lines, at least five episodes in, have included an American serial killer, a mobbed-up Irish vixen offing wealthy gentlemen of leisure with polonium-210 (ripped from the headlines!), and a roving fleet of anonymous truck drivers keen on staging couples' fight clubs. While it's true that our radioactive colleen owes a cryptic "debt" to a mysterious Russian who is being set up as the series super-villain -- no doubt with an organized crime and/or FSB connection -- she's still not quite Ratko Mladic or Omar al-Bashir material.
Indeed, not one of Crossing Lines's perps would ever be hauled before the real ICC. "It is a crime of aggression that is ongoing, systematic and cross-border," says Detective Major Louis Daniel (played by Marc Lavoine), a Gallic Nick Fury to this incipient band of eurozone Avengers. He's referring to his first case involving pretty women who are abducted in one city and then ritualistically slaughtered in another. "This is exactly what the ICC does." Except that it isn't. It's what Interpol does, or more precisely what normal police agencies under Interpol supervision do.
Of course, this is a midsummer NBC series, not a documentary -- and if Crossing Lines's only problem were its ham-fisted remit, then this might be excused in favor of other dramatic attributes. As it happens, the narrative arc of the show is banal, the cultural and sexual stereotypes sprinkled throughout are both silly and vulgar, and the dialogue seems written in varying dialects of eurotrash. Consider the origin story unveiled in the two-part pilot which involves both the team's formation and its first assignment tracking a serial killer. All it takes to shake Michel Dorn, a nationally indeterminate senior ICC inspector played by a sententious, Auden-quoting Donald Sutherland, of his quite reasonable skepticism about the legitimacy of a transnational FBI is to have a few poignant lines of an old report he authored on Kosovo quoted back to him by a yummy Italian anti-mafia cop named Eva Vittoria. She's there to make the moral case for an ICC police force, and boy does she make it.
"What man doesn't like a woman to tell him how brilliant he is?" says Daniel, as he assures Vittoria of her powers of persuasion. For some reason, series creator Edward Allen Bernero, himself a former Chicago cop, seems to think that feminine wiles are sufficient at speeding the wheels of international justice in the Netherlands. "A woman's mind is ... quite extraordinary," Sutherland's homme serieux relays to Daniel about the impression Vittoria has made on him, this as he he hands over the nifty ICC badges that make the team's authority official. Let's just hope these guys never have to prosecute Asma al-Assad.
Alas, other characters in the show are no less prone to kicking the viewer in the shin with cliche. Our protagonist, Carl Hickman (William Fichtner, who really does deserve better), is a brilliant criminal profiler formerly with the NYPD but now forsaken by the department after his hand was horribly mangled in the line of duty. When we meet him, Hickman is employed as a trash collector at a carnival in Amsterdam, yet one seemingly able to divine the life story of a bullying philanderer at a mere glance. What he's doing in sanitation will be illuminated in due course, but lest we have to figure out all by ourselves that Hickman's your gritty, tortured kind of lawman, he tells us in a voice-over: "The only thing keeping me alive was anger and morphine." What's the Dutch for "I'm getting too old for this shit"?