Hell hath no fury like the mom of a missing child, especially if Mom is a widowed ex-CIA agent. That's the premise of Missing, ABC's stylish nail-biter premiering Thursday night and starring Ashley Judd.
Becca Winstone (Judd) has spent the 10 years since her husband was killed by a car bomb overprotecting their son, Michael (Nick Eversman). Against her better instincts, she allows him to go off to Rome to study architecture, but talks to him by cell phone almost every day. Then the calls stop for a week and Becca goes into a panic and then into action.
Created by Gregory Poirier (Rosewood, National Treasure: Book of Secrets), Missing is somewhat preposterous, but not in the way you might expect: Judd really is believable as a retired spy, especially when she kicks it up a notch when confronting bad guys in Rome and Paris, where her search for Michael takes her. Credibility does get thin when she squares off against the Agency's substation chief in Rome, Dax Miller (Cliff Curtis), and enlists some former contacts, Interpol agent Giancarlo Rossi (Adriano Giannini) and, in the second episode, a former French intelligence officer now living undercover, "Hard Drive" (Lothaire Bluteau). If U.S. and European intelligence is as inefficient as portrayed here, we're all in big trouble.
But watching the show, you tend to go along with the story because Judd is so compelling and because director Stephen Shill paces the action like mini-Bourne Identities: lots of quick cuts, loud fight scenes and jerky camera angles. It doesn't hurt that the first two episodes were filmed in Rome and Paris.
It will take two episodes to get a firm grip of the show's structure: Becca's ongoing search for Michael pushes her into other situations that become self-contained storylines from week to week. In the second episode of the series, "Hard Drive," for example, she is forced to make a deal with the corrupt deputy director of French intelligence, who's long overdue for an official comeuppance.
And, by the way, in case you forget what the real theme of the show is, Judd's character frequently reminds us that she is driven by maternal protectiveness toward her 18-year-old son. As an agent, however, she had to be cold and calculating. If she wants to rescue Michael, she has to think like the spy she was and not the mother she is.
The supporting performances are all very solid, including Sean Bean as Becca's husband, Paul. He does get blown up at the start of Thursday's premiere, which is probably a faster way to go than having your head chopped off, which Bean's Ned Stark experienced at the end of the first season of Game of Thrones. But, since Bean is listed in the main cast of Missing, expect flashbacks. By the way, about 20 cases of hyperthymesia, otherwise known as superior autobiographical memory, have been confirmed worldwide so far. One of them is the actress Marilu Henner, an adviser on the CBS cop show Unforgettable, starring Poppy Montgomery as Carrie Wells, who solves crimes by remembering every moment of every day in her life. The condition may be extremely rare in the rest of the world, but apparently not in Hollywood: Missing's "Hard Drive" also has superior autobiographical memory. What a coincidence.
Missing may be 2 percent inspiration and 98 percent perspiration with all of its action scenes, but it's fun to watch. Judd classes up the joint nicely and, besides, who can resist a kickboxing mom?