Sloppy in its details and overwrought in its dialogue, ABC's "Missing" (8 tonight, WTAE) is like a bad Lifetime movie blown up into a weekly series.
Becca Winstone (Ashley Judd) lost her husband (Sean Bean, "Game of Thrones") in a suspicious car explosion in Europe 10 years ago. Now her 18-year-old son, Michael (Nick Eversman), is heading back to Europe for a school program. Becca is nervous, and, it turns out, she has good reason to be.
Michael gets kidnapped and Becca goes into Mama Grizzly mode, tearing apart Europe in her weekly search for him, getting closer but never close enough that "Missing" would have to come to an end.
Becca also has a secret from her past that comes in handy: She's a former CIA operative with a penchant for declaring the obvious with conviction ("I am not CIA, I'm a mother looking for her son!"). And she won't suffer fools, even if it means revealing her own paranoia ("Are you an idiot? I have passports hidden all over the world!").
Yes, "Missing" does not walk the fine line of self-parody, instead tripping over it before the show's title card when absurdly clingy Michael devises a secret code that he'll text to his mom that means "I love you." It's a gimmick designed so he can scrawl it on a cell wall after he's kidnapped so Mom sees it when she arrives at the location just after the kidnappers move him. This coded mash note for Mom is not something most living, breathing teenage boys would do, but writer Gregory Poirier isn't ashamed to write it into "Missing" as a bit of ham-fisted pandering to moms in the audience.
Although "Missing" is shot on location in Europe, director Steve Shill had better scripts to work with when he made "The Kill Point" in Pittsburgh. And visually, because so much of "Missing" is shot at night, large chunks could have been filmed just as easily on the Universal backlot in Los Angeles.
"Missing" is at its most egregious in the glaring details it gets wrong: when a father suggests his child carry china home to mom in a backpack (with no padding!) or when a son tells his mother he applied to an architecture program overseas only after he's been admitted (a conversation most teens would have before applying if their parents weren't nagging them to fill out the application). These details aren't important to the story, but they ring such discordant, false notes that it makes the whole "Missing" enterprise seem phony. It serves to repel rather than suck the viewer in as a thriller should do.
ABC made two episodes of "Missing" available, but ABC's online player failed before the end of the second episode. Perhaps it had had enough of "Missing," too.
A version of this story first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.