"The Missing" Never Finds What It's Looking For Review

I found something.

Miniseries of the mysterious variety are about as thick on the ground as period English adaptations were a decade ago. Like those adaptations, quality is pretty consistent while breaking through is rather more difficult without a dampened Colin Firth. The Missing (2014) goes back to the well to come up with this story of a missing child and jumbles up the litany of suspects enough to come out with eight episodes. Kind of like a fat free version of The Killing (2007-2012). Like that Danish series, The Missing concerns a single case, the victim's family, the police, the politicians, and a simple episode formula where a clue is planted, a suspect is cleared, and a surprise at the end makes you hungry for more. These formulae continue because they're so damn effective and if you've got a uniformly solid cast behind you--unlike, say, The Bridge (US) (2013-)--you've got something above average.

The Hughes clan has come to France. In 2006, Tony (James Nesbitt) is a workaholic--don't think we ever get his actual occupation--but genial-seeming Irish fellow who spoils his son Oliver (Oliver Hunt) whenever he can. Emily (Frances O'Connor) is a lovely mother, acting precisely how we might expect. When Oliver goes missing, however, the parents slowly--and then completely--lose it. An expert in missing persons, Julian Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo), joins the investigation and follows one thread at a time to its conclusion. In 2014, Tony comes back to the charming French town after he stumbles upon a vital clue. Back and forth through history we go, making thematic and plot connections--when they aren't cruelly hidden from us--that the characters are always one step ahead of.

The Killing's use of the formula became rather tedious. Over twenty episodes, it felt like going through the phonebook where you were just about certain that the tenth suspect wasn't the one who did the crime and all you really found out was what bit of dirty (and irrelevant) laundry they had to air out. Over eight episodes, The Missing only tangles with a few suspects and that's a blessing, but it suffers from the same malady. Ultimately, the ending serves only to scratch and itch rather than give the real, whole satisfaction that a tight program--like Wallander (2008)--would provide. It is worth noting that Wallander along with other great mystery programs like Rebus (2000-04) or Inspector Morse (1987-2000) are adaptations of novels that didn't have to satisfy the rigid eight, one-hour increments The Missing takes upon itself. Even so, the final hour is rank explanation that is completely unearned by the investigators' work. The queen of formula, Agatha Christie, had the decency to let her detective establish some framework that the rounded-up suspects would supplement with color commentary.

What The Missing does provide is sound characters with enough nuance that one comes to care as much about their story as the resolution of the central mystery. Not many programs would take as much time to follow an admitted pedophile around as he struggled with his guilty feelings. That thoroughness backfires somewhat when built-up conflicts--up to and including the finale--are resolved too quickly and end up hurting the characters. For example, Tony does something bad and leaves a clue behind and when that clue comes to light and Tony looks done for, he's pulled out of danger with the slightest of motives (which are also explained rather than developed). It's this kind of ruthless efficiency that won't allow any truly dead ends or blind alleys. Red herrings, yes, but they always find the herring. Then they eat it. Still, I love me some Tchéky Karyo and James Nesbitt is magnetic broken man. For all the quick turns in their characters, they always provided the calm and the edge of mania that kept the story engaging. Solid show.

One major annoyance is that the shoes on the cover never come into play in the show. They aren't found, by themselves, in the street. Why? Just why?



Three featurettes: "Behind the Scenes", "Transformations", and "Time Changes All"

"The Missing" is on sale April 14, 2015 and is not rated. Mystery. Directed by Tom Shankland. Written by Harry Williams, Jack Williams. Starring Frances Oconnor, James Nesbitt, Tchéky Karyo.

Jason Ratigan • Staff Writer

A lawyer-turned-something-else with a strong appreciation for film and television.  He knows he can't read every great book ever written, but seeing every good movie ever made is absolutely doable.  Check out his other stuff on Wordpress.


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