REVIEW: Missing (ABC – Thursday, 8:00 p.m.)

How far would you go to save the only thing you have left in the world? After a murder took Paul Winstone’s life, his wife Becca (Ashley Judd) and their son Michael struggled to rebuild their lives. Now, ten years later, Michael goes missing under suspicious circumstances, and Becca will do anything it takes to find him. 

Ever since Michael saw his father Paul blown up when he was just 8-years old, Becca has always been a tad overprotective. But she couldn’t say no to Michael’s amazing opportunity to study in Rome. Just a few weeks into his trip, however, Michael disappears. Becca flies to Rome for answers, but no one takes her seriously—so she takes matters into her own hands. You see, Becca isn’t just a mother looking for her son. Both she and Michael’s father used to be lethal CIA agents, and whoever took Michael messed with the wrong mother. Now, if Becca wants to find her son alive, she will have to rely on old friends and reopen old wounds. Her resourcefulness, skill and determination will be put to the test—but a mother’s love knows no limits. 

Exotic locations and thrilling twists will keep you riveted in Missing, the new drama from creator, executive producer and writer Gregory Poirier (National Treasure: Book of Secrets) and executive producers Gina Matthews and Grant Scharbo (The Gates) and Steve Shill and James Parriott. – ABC

70 out of 100

When we discussed Missing back in February we were very quick to note that as good and exciting as the series looked, we had serious reservations about it because of the family-friendly 8:00 p.m. time-slot which generally leads to vanilla.  After watching the first couple of episodes, it’s quite obvious that our reservations were warranted. Although Missing does a great job bringing audiences an exciting spy-thriller with a strong female lead à la Alias, it fails in a number of ways and those failures have been apparent from the opening scene of the pilot.


Soccer Mom? Really???

First, as much as we like Ashley Judd, she is very over-the-top in this and it’s a little difficult to take her seriously at times as the retired C.I.A. operative turned soccer mom and flower shop owner.  Part of the reason is that Judd looks far too young for the role. Yeah, we know she’ll be 44 in a couple of days, but she doesn’t look it at all and it’s not just because she’s aged well, it’s because she has this very cute, pixie-like quality about her that just seems to  defy age.  As people who regularly try to take note of all the nuances of scripted drama and the performances therein, it seems to us that she is acutely self-conscious of her youthful demeanor and appearance and is overcompensating a great deal because of it.

This is what we think of when we hear the name "Becca." CIA Agent, no... Teenage girl, yes.

Her character’s name, Becca, isn’t helping the situation either. Every time we hear that name, all we can think of is Corky’s sister from Life Goes On.  Becca is simply not a name that an adult in her forties can have and be taken seriously with.  Is Judd or her character horrible?  No, they aren’t even bad, but the actor and the character have the potential to be much better than we’re seeing right now and hopefully Judd will be able to settle into the role as time goes on.

The real issue with the show, though, is (as is the norm for scripted drama) the generic, cookie-cutting writing.  There really is nothing new about the entire premise of Missing and in fact, every concept of this show has been done in the last decade in film and television, alike.  This show is a combination of AliasThe Bourne Identity, Vanished and Taken (hmmmm… Missing… VanishedTaken… are we seeing a trend, perhaps?) and that’s fine with us on its face because we have no problem with recycled themes in genre provided that the end-product is original and clever.  The problem  is that they can’t just start from those themes and move forward creatively. No, instead, the writers and producers have this uncontrollable compulsion to throw in every, dry, stale and formulaic cliché known in the genre and the television procedural format.

Generally speaking, yes, the characters are very formulaic but more bothersome are the premises they’re throwing at us on a weekly basis and are expecting us to buy.  We just saw the second episode and it was one of the most laughable 41 minutes of dramatic television we’ve ever watched.  We try to avoid doing synopses of individual episodes in our reviews but we kind of felt it was necessary this time so we could get across what our problems are with this show.  This next part is full of spoilers, so you’ve been warned.

So, the episode starts with Becca, winding up in Paris and intentionally getting herself arrested so that she can get a face-to-face meeting with some bigshot in French Intelligence, Antoine Lussier (played by one of our favorite character actors, Joaquim de Almeida).  Well it turns out that this Lussier guy is corrupt as all get-out and Becca wants to make a deal for him to find Michael (who she believes is in France) in exchange for a “hard drive” of information on him that exposes his corruption.  Turns out that the “hard drive” is actually a person that has a photographic memory whose codename is “Hard Drive.”  Clever, right?  And that, unfortunately, is where the cleverness ends in this episode and the whole thing just devolves into one idiotic cliché after another.

First, you’d have to be an idiot not to know that Lussier is intending to double-cross Becca the first chance he gets and just in case you are an idiot, they waste no time telling the audience that he’s going to do exactly that.  Next, Becca picks up Hard Drive and as they are driving to the rendezvous point they get to know each other (for the sole purpose of sympathetic character exposition) and right before Becca is about to turn him over to Lussier (on a bridge, no less… because prisoner exchanges on bridges have never been done before), Hard Drive informs her that he has a wife and family.  Becca doesn’t care because she wants to get her Michael back who is at the other end of the bridge… with a black bag on his head.

...which is exactly what Becca should have been in this situation.

Now, again you’d have to be an idiot not to know that if it were really her Michael, he wouldn’t have a bag on his head because Lussier would want to go through with the charade as convincingly as possible right up to the end.  So, even if the audience isn’t stupid, apparently, the professionally trained and experienced super spy, Becca, is because she goes as far as to get Hard Drive out of the car and allow faux-Michael to walk several feet toward her before she starts opening fire.  In fact, there was a “Han shot first” aspect to this whole scene  where she didn’t even start firing until faux-Michael went for his weapon which in reality never would have happened because a trained operative would have gotten the drop on her opponent before he ever got a chance to get his weapon out.  And how did Becca notice that it wasn’t Michael?  Well, you can guess that it wasn’t the black bag, no, it was the far less-obvious slight limp or something that Michael should have because he broke his ankle on a skateboard when he was twelve that faux-Michael didn’t have.

So, after this, she and Hard Drive escape to go move his family (even though it begs the obvious question, “why,” as the only one who knew where they were living were the two of them in the vehicle or else Lussier would have gotten to Hard Drive earlier) and then, they come up with this great plan to break in to French Intelligence HQ to try to find out where her son is (because apparently with all of the resources that the two of them have globally, no one seems to know a good hacker who can do this kind of work remotely… you know… from a safe distance.).

In the meantime, Lussier has made a deal with the C.I.A. to bring Becca in provided that the CIA allow him to have Hard Drive, despite the fact that they know he’s corrupt and they know what information Hard Drive has (the C.I.A. bigwig actually used the phrase “… the devil you know” to explain their decision).

'I zhall find ze pretty American lady-zpy. Zhe zhall not get pazt me"

Moving forward, despite the fact that French Intelligence and presumably the Po-Po are on high-alert, these two are able to go back to Paris and infiltrate French Intelligence without barely breaking a sweat.  While there, Becca finds out that Michael is still indeed in France but is being flown away within the next twenty minutes.  As she’s about to bounce out of French Intelligence, she contacts CIA Agent Dax Miller (Cliff Curtis, another one of our favorite character actors) who has been pursuing her and asks him to go to the airstrip to rescue her son. He agrees and then they both head toward the airstrip and lo and behold, talk about your crappy timing, but Becca gets there just as they’re loading the kid on to the airplane and just misses him.  Miller and Co. really dropped the ball arriving five minutes later.

Yep... they're that good.

So, what happened to Hard Drive?  Well, Hard Drive decided to stay behind and use the computers at French Intelligence and a Wiki-Leaks type of site to upload all of the information in his head that implicates Lussier in corruption and crimes and have it magically appear on all of the displays on every computer in French Intelligence… and the C.I.A. (which is pointless because they already know he’s a crook and don’t care and furthermore have no jurisdictional authority over him, so why bother, really?).  This is kind of odd considering he had merely minutes to type all of this information and it would seem impossible to do, but we’ll let that slide. Then Hard Drive escapes and we see him meet up with is family at their new house (that they apparently purchased and furnished during the commercial break).

Now, besides all of the absurdities of the predictable crap in this episode and all of the ridiculous inconsistencies, the major failure of the episode was that they had a golden opportunity to add some real depth of a moral dilemma without a happy outcome and they completely failed.  Even though we knew Hard Drive was going to survive the prisoner exchange one way or the other (because that’s how incredibly vanilla the episode was) we were holding on to the sliver of hope that the producers would  have some courage and make this show stand out from the rest of the garbage out there by actually having Becca have to face a crisis of conscience and live with the consequences of a decision that would result in ending the life of an innocent man with a family to satisfy her own selfish desires.  To make matter worse, there are not only no consequences, but EVERYONE lives happily ever after at the end and the villain gets what ‘s coming to him!  Early 24, this ain’t, folks, and if you’re expecting that you will be sadly disappointed.

Despite all of these complaints, the fact is that the problems with Missing are indicative of the problems with most dramatic programming on television and most of those shows aren’t as compelling nor as nearly well-produced.  Hell, if we were to dismiss a drama based on the formulaic filler exclusively, we’d have to eliminate 90% of the shows in our viewing stable.

Overall, the casting is fantastic on this show (even though we do recognize that Judd needs to tone it down a little bit and we need to get used to her not being 22 any more) and considering the Alias-type nature of the show, we wouldn’t be surprised if Paul Winstone (Sean Bean) pulls a predictable Lazarus move and it turns out that he isn’t really dead after all.  That’s one particular cliché that we wouldn’t mind at all.  The show moves at an extremely fast clip and the action and special effects are very well-done.  We especially like the job they’ve done with the VFX on-location sets and scenery, in particular the nearly seamless use of CGI to represent foreign locales.

Our last real comment on the show is that if it has any chance of keeping audiences interested, they’re going to need to stop doing what they did in that second episode and that is having Becca and Michael be at arm’s length before he’s suddenly taken from her… again.  Seriously, audiences are stupid, but they aren’t that stupid.  First, the show is called Missing and the premise is that a son is abducted and the mother is trying to find him.  Well, it would be a pretty quick series if she gets him back by the second episode so no one is really going to be surprised because she “just misses him.”  Taking this a step further, if they keep going to that well, it’s just going to annoy audiences who aren’t going to buy it and will just stop watching.  So they need to knock it off already.

Now, that being said, we don’t expect Michael to be missing for more than one season because, seriously, if thinking long-term, would anyone want to watch seven straight seasons of that with no payoff at the end of every season?  Doubtful.  We wouldn’t, so we imagine that like Prison Break, Missing will evolve into a much more elaborate political thriller and if done right, could be very effective… but they have to start taking some risks.

Definitely a good show and we recommend it but it needs some time to mature.

Watch full episodes of Missing, here.

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