Hulu’s Under the Bridge Is a Harrowing, Respectful True Crime Ballad

TV Reviews Hulu
Hulu’s Under the Bridge Is a Harrowing, Respectful True Crime Ballad

Since seemingly the dawn of time, humans have had a particular fascination with how we destroy one another. And as the years have gone on, that fascination has only grown stronger as we gain easier access to these gruesome tales. From millions huddled around their television sets to see OJ Simpson hold up those gloved hands to podcasters going on tour to tell sold-out crowds the story of a grisly murder, true crime has been an all-consuming obsession that has blossomed into a thriving industry. But with a thriving industry comes sensation, blatant disrespect, and a type of zealous hunger for more death and destruction that dehumanizes those at the center of what has become popcorn-worthy entertainment. In an era where convicted killers in TV adaptations become meme fodder for social media managers and satirical takes on the genre don’t feel that far removed from reality, Under the Bridge values one fundamental belief that elevates it above all other true crime series: respect. 

Based on the novel of the same name written by the late Rebecca Godfrey, Under the Bridge tells the harrowing true story of the brutal murder of Reena Virk (Vritika Gupta), a 14-year-old who became the undeserving target of something more horrifying than anything that goes bump in the night: teenage girls. Through multiple timelines, the series catalogs Reena’s life and death, the relationship she shared with a group of wayward girls—Josephine (Chloe Guidry), Kelly (Izzy G.), and Dusty (Aiyana Goodfellow)—and the efforts of both author Rebecca (Riley Keough) and officer Cam (Lily Gladstone) to bring the perpetrators of this truly disturbing crime to justice. 

Unfolding across eight episodes, Under the Bridge aims to shed light not only on those who carried out Reena’s brutal murder, but on Reena herself. True crime reporting often focuses on the killers, breaking down what makes them tick, immersing the story in their problematic upbringing or their apparent non-humanity, but Under the Bridge makes sure that, more than anything, this is Reena’s story. And in telling her story, which includes her tumultuous relationship with her parents (played by Archie Panjabi and Ezra Faroque Khan) and how growing up Indian in this particular town sent her down a path she would never return from, the series employs the utmost respect to make sure that she is more than just a body on a cold morgue table. In fact, her body is never actually shown in its entirety at all, with Under the Bridge instead allowing audiences to fill in the disturbing blanks. And when we finally do see everything that happened under the bridge that night, the focus is instead on the chillingly gleeful faces of her peers, with Reena never used for shock value or haunting imagery. 

The series’ examination of race, in particular, is cutting and pulls no punches, especially taking the white author at the center of this investigation to task for her own biases as she moves through this case and finds herself drawn to certain suspects. As some officers push back on the notion that the murder of this Indian girl in a predominantly white town was not racially motivated, it’s Cam who becomes Reena’s champion. Haunted by her own adoption and disconnect from her Native heritage, Cam is given incredible depth by Academy Award nominee Gladstone; she’s kind yet harsh, and only wants whatever kind of justice she can provide for this young girl. Cam was fabricated for the show, and the blend of this fictional figure with the fictionalized version of Rebecca is compelling and offers a very interesting reflection on Godfrey’s life (especially considering she worked alongside Quinn Shephard to bring this story to the screen for two years prior to her death in 2022). 

Under the Bridge expertly paces this tragic story, blending present timeline moments with flashbacks to highlight just how this situation spun so horribly out of control. It’s instantly gripping, and even when the killer is revealed halfway through the series, it still remains just as engaging and horrifying to uncover every additional detail, including the outcome awaiting these cruel teens. 

But while it is a triumph in its writing and pacing, it’s the performances that truly carry this series. Gladstone and Keough are phenomenal, especially as their characters reconnect and drift apart; Panjabi is a true force as a mother at her wits’ end. But while the heavy hitters (perhaps expectedly) give tour de force performances, it’s the exceptional outings from the young cast that make this series shine.

Gupta is moody and yearnful as Reena, tangibly teenage and heart-achingly human. Even when she lashes out at her parents or participates in faux-gang nonsense, you can still see the glowing heart beneath it all. Guidry and Izzy G. are monstrous as Jo and Kelly, but never veer into one-note caricature, while Goodfellow and Euphoria’s Javon Walton as Dusty and Warren dynamically unleash frightening anger and quiet pain. And while it caused a bit of confusion when the news broke that Keough and Gladstone are being submitted under the Best Supporting banner at the 2024 Emmys, it’s understandable once you actually see the series; it’s truly an ensemble piece, grounded in each individual story and the ways they heart-wrenchingly intertwine. 

My only real complaint about this show is that Rebecca and Cam ultimately fall to the wayside as the trials and reveals take center stage in the season’s final episodes. Considering the relationship established between them early on, their story fizzles and flounders before providing them proper (if noticeably rushed) closure. At times, they feel like shadows lingering on the edges of this commanding story, but when they’re allowed the screentime, they blossom into extremely compelling characters in their own right. 

Under the Bridge catalogs the very worst of humanity, highlighting how the world is filled with cruelty and pain, and how horrible things happen to people that don’t deserve any of it. And perhaps most importantly, this is not a series where the good guys win as the season fades to black with a triumphant crescendo. Instead, Under the Bridge posits that goodness is a constant, radical choice, whether it be through forgiveness, compassion, or even guilt, and that the worst thing you’ve ever done or has been done to you is not all that you will be. 

Under the Bridge premieres Wednesday, April 17th on Hulu.

Anna Govert is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and her unshakable love of complicated female villains, you can follow her @annagovert.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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