ABC's new show Missing, which premieres tonight at 8, sounds like the sort of thing I should be all over - it's about a retired CIA agent (played by Ashley Judd) running around Europe looking for her missing college-aged son. Unfortunately, the first 15 minutes of the pilot went back and forth between being utterly boring and completely preposterous that I almost turned it off. (And it's not like I demand a lot of action or realism from my spy stories - I'm a fan of both Rubicon and Burn Notice, after all.) Luckily - for the show, maybe not for me - it improved a bit after that, at least enough that I'll give it another episode or two to hook me.
It's not a coincidence that I started liking the show better when some supporting characters - especially Cliff Curtis's CIA station chief - appeared, because Judd and her character were most of what made the beginning near unwatchable. Judd's performance is laughably melodramatic and grating, but to be fair, she's not given much to work with. I didn't know it was possible to make a woman looking for her missing son seem so unsympathetic. The character is written as so self-absorbed and difficult to deal with that I'm having a hard time imagining how she could have been such a successful undercover agent. And she seems happy to kill people at the drop of a hat, which a) doesn't make her more likeable and b) doesn't actually serve her ends. They're not going to tell you where your son is if they're dead, lady.
Look, I'm all in favor of more badass women on TV and more female leads in action stuff, but I'm just not convinced that showing a hysterical, irrational woman who only cares about her child - but happens to be running around breaking into places and killing people - is actually progress. (And that's another thing - she has supposedly been out of the CIA for ten years and just going to PTA meetings and jogging, basically, and I'm not thrilled with the implication that the only valid reason to act spy-like again is if her child is in danger.) I'd respect the show more if I thought they were actually trying to show us a woman unraveling and becoming perhaps criminally insane because of the loss of her child, but it seems like the show wants us to think her behavior is laudable.
And . . . I know this basically all sounds negative, but it's a pilot. Sometimes things improve. Many characters I've wound up liking on other shows were awful in their pilots. Hurry up and improve, Missing.