Jane Sadler isn’t a candidate for mother of the year. She’s not even a candidate for a “World’s Greatest Mom” coffee mug. But when her daughter disappears, we should begin to sympathize with her a bit.
At first, though, that’s all the sympathy she inspires: a bit.
Kyra Sedgwick plays Sadler, a workaholic television producer who makes somewhat of an effort to be an attentive single mom to her daughter, Lake (Abigail Pniowsky) in the tension-filled ABC drama “Ten Days in the Valley,” premiering on Sunday.
While there’s no question Jane loves her daughter, Lake is also a pawn in the ongoing antipathy between Jane and her ex-husband, Pete (Kick Gurry). That is why when Jane discovers her daughter missing one night, she immediately concludes Pete took her.
As the cops, led by John Bird (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), descend on Jane’s house, she quickly tidies up, throwing her baggie of recently purchased drugs out of sight.
It’s understandable that Jane would lie about the drugs and the visit earlier that night from her teenage dealer P.J. (Mark L. Young), but she continues to lie even after it seems unlikely that Pete abducted his own daughter.
At this point, the credibility of the drama, created by Tassie Cameron, seems to wobble. For one thing, she works too hard to set up secondary characters as potential kidnapers. And we have to wonder why Jane is still lying to Bird and not more desperate to get Lake back. Is it a flaw in the character, or are we projecting our desire for Jane’s maternal instincts to kick in and her (presumed) better nature to lead her in the right direction to get her daughter back?
Sedgwick’s performance anchors the series. There is no question that Jane is a flawed personality, but how flawed? How much of her potentially dangerous myopia is attributable to the intensity of her job focus and her use of drugs to keep her energized?
The show’s appeal rests in the fact that Jane is an enigma. As quick as she is to judge, to insist, to order, to remonstrate, who is she really? Sedgwick makes us want to know, even if we don’t always think we like the character.
In a way, the character is much like Walter White. We are used to meeting characters on TV who never change. But with “Breaking Bad,” Vince Gilligan created a character whose deeper nature would evolve with time. Cameron seems to have done the same thing with Jane. The difference is that, with White, the “bad side” emerged later on, while in the case of Jane Sadler, we’re hoping for the “good side” to emerge. Sedgwick is so good, I wouldn’t place any bets, one way or the other.
‘Ten Days in the Valley’ debuts at 10 p.m. Oct. 1 on ABC.