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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
(written by Gregory Poirier; directed by Steve Shill; TRT: 41:27)
The network's description: "Becca Winstone (Ashley Judd) learns that her son, Michael, disappears while studying abroad, and it's a race against time when she travels to Europe to track him down. A surprising turn of events reveals just how far one mother will go to protect her family. Exotic locations and thrilling twists will keep you riveted in "Missing." How far would you go to save the only thing you have left in the world? At 8 years old, Michael watched as his father, CIA Agent Paul Winstone, was murdered. Now 10 years later, Paul's wife, Becca, is faced with the reality of her son growing up. When Michael is afforded the opportunity to study abroad, his mother reluctantly agrees it's time to let him go.
Just a few weeks into his trip Michael disappears, and Becca immediately suspects foul play. When she arrives in Rome, she begins piecing together the clues left behind. It isn't long before the kidnappers realize they've picked a fight with the wrong woman. Becca Winstone has a secret of her own -- before Paul's death, she was also a lethal CIA Agent. But if she wants to find her son alive, Becca 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."
What did they leave out? Look for Keith Carradine in blink-and-you'll-miss role as Martin, Becca's mentor.
The plot in a nutshell: Becca Winstone (Ashley Judd) has every reason to be overprotective of her son Michael (Nick Eversman): 10 years ago while on vacation in Europe, a terrorist attack took the life of his father Paul (Sean Bean) with Michael just yards away. And so when the now college-aged Michael announces his plans to attend a summer architecture program in Italy, Becca is understandably concerned. Sure enough, when his phone calls and text messages stop, she begins to worry, a development her pal/flower shop co-worker (Aunjanue Ellis) assures is normal teenage behavior. But when his school rings to inform her he's being dropped from the program for not showing, she's on the next plane to track him down. And after she's greeted at his apartment by an armed assailant and kills him without breaking a sweat, it's evident there's much more going on than meets the eye.
You see, Becca used to be a CIA agent, as did her late husband, a career she left following his death. "Those are the ones we've got to look out for: the thinner the file, the better the agent," explains Dax (Cliff Curtis), the CIA substation chief in Paris, after catching wind of Becca's activities. He too is reasonably skeptical of Becca: after all, how does someone who's spent the past decade as a soccer mom turn into Jason Bourne if they weren't working for someone? Left with no other option, Becca turns to an old contact/flame Giancarlo (Adriano Giannini) who helps her confirm every mother's worst nightmare: not only is Michael missing, he was specifically targeted and taken.
What works: The show's Czech Republic production base adds some interesting flavor to the proceedings, albeit when it doesn't have to green screen in Italian locales. It's definitely Bourne lite (scooter chases! fist fights on the train! oh my!), but the fact it can even be called that on television is something of an accomplishment.
What doesn't: There's an unfortunate Lifetime movie-of-the-week vibe to much of the show. "I am not CIA, I am a mother looking for her son!" Becca exclaims in one of her sure-to-be-promoed exchanges. Likewise when she takes the time to have a good cry after uncovering surveillance footage of her son's abduction or assures Michael's Italian girlfriend (apologies as I didn't recognize the actress) her son isn't a love them and leave them type, it gives a silly air to its mechanizations. It doesn't help that Becca's ass kicking bona fides come across as equally awkward: random one liners like "time to upgrade" after disabling the saddest looking security system possible are cringe-worthy at best while taking time to glance at a broken picture of her with Michael during a life-and-death struggle definitely tests your eye-rolling capacity.
"Missing" also doesn't dig too deep into the action/spy movie playbook: developments like Michael's secret code to tell Becca he loves her ("235@W'" trumps letting your friends see you text "I love you" to your mom) practically shout out that they'll come into play later; it's all of 20 minutes before Becca makes her way through the Euro dance club in every TV or movie ever; tough gal Becca gets a chaste sponge bath of her cuts and bruises from the still torch-carrying Giancarlo; and, of course, nothing gets presumed bad guys to talk faster than holding their head out of a speeding train into oncoming traffic (let's of course forget it would ultimately rip Becca's hand off as well). All in all, it's pretty disappointing stuff, especially considering Judd's pedigree and the show's overall ambition. Judd isn't necessarily bad, she's just saddled with a one-dimensional, mama-bear-protecting-her-cub role.
The bottom line: I really wanted to like this one, but it undercuts itself at every turn.