GENRE: Thriller, Family Drama
STARRING: The Family – Joan Allen, that one chick from The Newsroom with the weird face; Thirteen – Aneurin Barnard is someone you will want to know because he and his dark curls were dreamy; The Missing – David Morrissey’s Walking Dead pedigree tricked me into watching this and now I’m mad because it was boring af.
RATING: The Family – a reserved 4 out of 5 missing kid flyers, Thirteen – five out of five, The Missing – 2 sleepy eyes trying to stay open to watch it.
WHERE CAN I SEE IT? The Missing is still boring the knickers off folks on BBC iPlayer at this writing, Thirteen is on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and something called Vudu. The Family is available on iTunes, Google Play, and Playstation.
Okay, so this is a weird bit of televisual group-think for a TV show premise: what if a missing kid CAME BACK after several years? Three production companies sold this idea to networks, two in the U.K. and one in the states (so far).
Sometimes people with kids tell me they can’t watch stories in which kids are in danger and in peril. I totally get that. Sometimes I can’t either and I don’t have kids. But what if they kid comes back? Joy! Jubilation! Not.So.Fast say these three shows.
What’s fascinating about them is the social milieu in which the return is situated. In The Family, it can’t just be a kid, Adam, returning to his family as a teenager after being snatched. Since it’s American, it’s gotta have an overblown family dynamic embedded in the family’s political aspirations and living in a big-ass’d house. There’s a lot of pearl-clutching and ignoring of instinct: “Whatever will it mean for the family in the spotlight to have the son return?” I was excited to see Grant Show from Melrose Place (Jake!) in a smaller role. He still fine. And the class stuff is alternately infuriating and funny as it intersects with angst about what it means to be a Good Mother, Good Father and Good Sibling/Son/Daughter in this set up.
I cannot in good faith tell you to invest in The Family without telling you that it was cancelled and not picked up for renewal just as something amazeballs was revealed. I’m not going to tell you. I’m going to send you a mixed message: The Family is totally worth watching because it’s fun to see this truism come to fruition across the board: EVERYONE LIES. It’s a special kind of white dysfunction embedded in American stoicism and Protestantism that I enjoy immensely. The Duplicitous Lesbians subplotting is eye-rollingly dumb, but a nice case study for a women’s studies cinema class of “Homophobia and Heterosexist Tittilation Through Fictive Lesbian Sexy Times.”
I watched The Family at the same time as Thirteen was on in the UK. The class contrast was great and made The Family look amateurish by comparison: a middle-class family in a decent-sized house welcome back their daughter, Ivy, who stumbles up the path to their house 13 years after being taken.
What makes Thirteen worth watching on its own is the acting, which was superlative. The protagonist, Ivy, is believably confused, angry and bewildered that her family and friends have both moved on and managed to stay the same. It’s also a visually pleasing mini-series set in someplace-other-than-London. It’s beautifully shot and heartwrenching to see what Ivy’s missed out on in her community and family.
The Missing is the most recent and least interesting entrant into the field of Returned Snatched Kid dramas. And TV producers could all just stop after this one. I watched both series one and two of The Missing. Season one featured James Nesbitt and, as I suspected, he’s just overused in British dramas.
It’s hard to situate the protagonist in the second series, but mostly it’s a detective haunted by the abduction of not one, not two, but three girls. He’s very French and he has a brain tumor to give his obsession some urgency. But even with only eight episodes, I only kept watching because the twist in this thriller had me completely baffled. I even got out a piece of paper and pen to sketch out what I thought was happening and then realized there weren’t enough clues to help solve the mystery.
Can I tell you to watch all three for comparison’s sake? No. Do not. The Missing dragged out across European landscapes and tried to make the main detective’s torment at not solving these cases matter. It does not succeed. Skip it.
But do catch The Family and Thirteen and watch them at the same time, if at all possible. The demeanors of the families and what they think is important is a chin-scratching meditation on how we think families should be and how they really are.
And just for funnies: the theme music for The Missing reminded me of this Portlandia skit about TV theme music. It’s a good send up of how over-the-top, “we’re being moody” TV themes have gotten. As if the people producing it were like, “The opening sequence needs to be its own mini-movie. You know, like True Blood.” Thank you, True Blood, for unleashing this pretentious scourge on viewers everywhere.