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Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Missing, BBC1

Did we like it?
It won’t lay siege to the gates of police drama and breach them with a battering ram of innovation and convoluted plotting; but it did engage our interest for 45 minutes as a pretty good, low-key, focused show in the vein of Casualty and Doctors – which is both a blessing an a curse.

What was good about it?
• Pauline Quirke as the harassed DS MJ Croft. She is the linchpin of the missing persons department in Dover, dealing with disappearances – whether potential kidnappings or murder, or vanishing fraudsters – commanding a small team of two officers DS Jason Doyle (Felix Scott) and Amy Garnett (Poojah Shah).
• Doyle in particular acts as a dumb stooge for MJ to impress her discipline and experience on the investigations. This is created by the clash of his impetuous character feeling that he has been demoted from the vice squad to the relative backwater of MJ’s team.
• And there’s the added friction with Amy, after they stumbled into bed together after a drunken night out. Sure, it’s a contrived way to create internal conflict and suppressed lust, but it vivified their on-screen relationship as they bickered and constantly tried to outdo one another while at the same time maintaining the tension that at any moment the professional barriers keeping at bay their mutual attraction could once again crumble (although at 2.30pm the consequences would hardly be Last Tango In Paris).
• The opening episode had two storylines. The first concerned Anthony, an autistic teenage boy found wandering the streets muttering a mysterious nine-digit code. When they discovered his identity, MJ drove him home only to discover that his mother was missing and there was blood in the bathroom. There then followed a fairly standard investigation that laid false trails of the abusive absent father and the possibility that Anthony had killed his mother in a fit of rage. But it was simply a case of mother and son quarrelling, and him accidentally injuring her.
• The sub-plot involved the frantic Jan, who reported her fiancé missing as the pair were about to fly to St Lucia to get married and resettle. Etienne, Jan’s fiancé and St Lucia native, has disappeared after she gave him £4,000 for their new home. Again, it was too obvious to be a case of two-dimensional immigrant fleeces brave Brit for her cash, and it turned out that Etienne’s cousin was the real crook, and he was trying to make amends for Jan.
• While obviously on a smaller budget to primetime dramas, this in fact worked in Missing’s favour because the small core cast of four – the three team members and wayward DJ Danny (Mark Wingett) – gave it a more focused appeal, as did setting it in Dover as this means there is little chance of Colombian drug barons or Russian mafia – twin pyres of conflagratory dreariness in thrillers – charging into town.

What was bad about it?
• While it does its best to liberate itself of the acquiescent mire of daytime TV, Missing was hampered by the twin saccharine happy endings. Etienne and Jan were reunited by their love, while Anthony’s mother Sandra, who had been suicidal because her debts, was comforted by her ex-husband who pledged to help out with the financial costs of Anthony.
• While each was a satisfying conclusion to the divergent storylines, we must have seen similar plots a thousand times before in Casualty, Doctors and the like. And while Pauline Quirke’s strong central performance awarded Missing a distinctive voice, the plots seemed to fizzle out into the amorphous mass of mainstream TV denouements.
• Right, we now know it’s set in Dover, so can there please be a moratorium on the bloody images of the White Cliffs. They’re in the title sequence, they pop up at every scenic interlude, and Sandra seemed about to throw herself from them before MJ intervened. Look, we concede they’re very pretty but like the ‘Dreaming Spires’ of Oxford that cropped up in Morse – as an allusive jackboot to the way in which the future of this country will be governed by the nauseating elite who seep through the university walls – it’s overdone.
• The disjointed epilogue in which MJ was a guest on Danny’s first shift as a local radio DJ. As their chat about the role of MJ’s team in locating missing people desiccated, he misguidedly brought up MJ’s own missing sister – thus supplying MJ with a backstory to act as a narrative spine to the series. And matters were made worse when a reflective MJ wandered down to Dover docks in one of those trite contemplative moods that everyone in Home & Away employs whenever they’re feeling slightly unhappy.

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