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Reason The first episode doesn't air until tomorrow night, as of this writing -- but we got a screener.

Screen: Starz

Should You Join The Search For The Missing?

The DNA (of other solid TV/film thrillers) evidence suggests you should!

What is this thing?

In 2006, five-year-old Ollie Hughes went missing while on holiday in France with his British parents -- one minute he was right beside Tony in a crowded pub during a World Cup match; then he was gone, and he's been gone since.

Emily, his mother, has moved on to the extent she can, as she's about to marry, or at least has moved in with, a nice man and his son, James, who's the same age as Ollie would be...but the nice man, Mark, is a guy she met in the small French town where Ollie disappeared, when she mistook James for Ollie and chased him through the square. And Mark is also the British police liaison on the case, so maybe "on" isn't where she's moved.

Tony definitely hasn't. He's back in the small town, staying in the same hotel room, because he's run across a photo of an Asian boy Ollie's age, taken in the town, wearing a scarf Emily had made for Ollie. He's getting drunk, accosting pedestrians with the photo, and annoying the local constabulary some more. But the retired French detective who consulted on Ollie's disappearance, tipped by the local police that Tony's making problems for them, starts out telling him to drop the subject...then finds himself working the case almost in spite of himself. The two men track the scarf through a secondhand shop to a previous owner.

Tony goes down into the previous owner's basement.

Everything and nothing becomes clear.

When is it on?

Saturdays at 9 on Starz. Why, Starz, with the Saturdays. Help us help you.

Why now?

If I had to guess? Starz looked at Broadchurch and thought, that's the stuff: a limited series showcasing European talent, all directed by a single helmer a la True Detective (here, Ripper Street's Tom Shankland) that explores the aftermath of a crime committed against a single child in a small town.

What's its pedigree?

Harry and Jack Williams, the writers and co-creators, "come from a comedy background," per the Starz press kit; they've gigged on Roman's Empire, an episode of Call The Midwife, that sort of thing.

The actors include James Nesbitt (The Hobbit, Ballykissangel) as Tony, Frances O'Connor (Mr Selfridge) as Emily, Tchéky Karyo (My Life So Far) as retired detective Julien Baptiste, and Guy Ritchie vet Jason Flemyng as Mark Walsh. Not a household-name roster for some American viewers, but this is kind of show is why Al Lowe's Wheel Of Murder was put on earth.

...And?

The pilot's shotmaking is a bit in love with itself at the top: Tony's shadow through a curtain, the amped-up sound of the driving rain. I kind of like the occasional interstitial shots of power sources cheek-by-jowl with the "idyllic" French countryside: wind farms, electrical stanchions, nuclear silos. But I got enough of that in Canadian "thriller" Durham County to last me a while.

The writing is sometimes a bit twee in getting us the information we need, like when Tony and Julien visit a secondhand shop whose owner sends consigners postcards telling them what became of their merch. That I can accept; that she's musing about possessions having lives of their own is an exposition bridge too far.

And Frances O'Connor is not my shot of whisky. Part of that is the character, and after seeing what Jodie Whittaker did with similarly high-strung but textured and real character in Broadchurch, I'm not without hope; part of it, too, is the shortcutsy rendition of the happy little family, the TV-cute and flawlessly well-behaved child with his art-directed drawings of "Dad-daaaaaay." Part of it is that she's the British Katie Aselton. All of it together is tough.

...But?

I think all that is pilot-itis, going very big with the atmospherics to make the sale, because for every time I muttered, "People don't talk like that, not even in France," the writing does two subtle and ambiguous things that an American show would over-explain or dump us into another flashback for right away. The pacing, both within the flashbacks to 2006 and how long we spend in each time period, is great; Los Williams give you just enough to wonder what the hell's gone on in eight years. I also like that they drop out the subtitles to point up the disadvantage Tony and Emily are often at, and the alienation they feel, in a foreign country.

And I definitely wonder, because on top of the main case, you've got a guy who's written a bestseller about Ollie's disappearance, one that evidently isn't flattering to Tony -- who appears to have blackmailed a local detective for access to case info, and whom Emily is now detailing to head over to France and see what Tony's got because she doesn't want to call him herself. Julien maybe got shot in the leg in the intervening years. Someone is "rotting in jail." Tony and his father-in-law got up to something shady even before 2006, and when Robert wonders if it's related, Tony shakes his head: "It was a long time ago." "Not that long," Robert says.

It's a lot; it's quite possibly one thing too many. The Missing shares DNA not just with Broadchurch but with Epitafios and the European The Vanishing, and you can't beat those for influences, but you don't want to get too complex and eat your own tail like Revenge, either. But while it's just a tad cutesy and/or pretentious in spots, what it's not doing is stalling. It's assured, and that assures me it's worth a commitment.

...So?

It's a very promising thriller for the "gets dark at 3:30" season. I'm in.

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