Believe it or not, it has been nearly three years since we saw French detective Julien Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo) go under the knife for an operation on his brain tumour. Asked to count down from ten, Baptiste managed to get to 3 before the anaesthetic sent him off to sleep. Internet conspiracy theorists were convinced the number was somehow significant and that it meant we’d get a third series of The Missing. They were ‘sort of’ right as three years on, (there’s that pesky number again) the writers behind The Missing, Jack and Harry Williams bring us a six-part spin-off putting their pensive detective front and centre entitled simply, Baptiste.
Baptiste is retired, living in Amsterdam with long-suffering wife Celia (Anastasia Hille) and enjoying being a grandad. It’s not long until he’s drawn into another case surrounding the sudden disappearance of Edward Stratton’s (Tom Hollander) niece who is a sex worker in the city. Edward and Baptiste meet and he’s compelled to help the Englishman find her. As with original series, the story is peppered with many other threads: a man is brutally murdered by the sea in Britain, and a farmer and his dog uncover a dead body in a field of tulips. There’s also a menacing gang who appear to be crucial. In terms of the number of things happening and disparate characters this spin-off shares a lot of DNA with The Missing, but somehow something feels off. It is impossible for me not to compare this opening episode to the first episodes of the first two series of The Missing, both of which ended with me intrigued or hooked completely, this just left me feeling cold.
The original series worked because of its ability to draw you in by playing with time and often putting the focus on the parents of the missing children Baptiste was working alongside. Though we get to see a lot of Tom Hollander as Stratton he’s not really that compelling. The ‘villains’ of the piece feel more cliche than they do threatening and the pacing is surprisingly slow considering this is a six-part series rather than the eight the BBC gave them for The Missing.
Perhaps the biggest problem of all is with the lead performance from Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo). In The Missing we saw Baptiste when he was required, here it’s front and centre and sadly, he’s not interesting enough to carry an entire series. A show like this needs a compelling detective, like a Jane Tennison or Saga Noren in The Bridge. Baptiste is incredibly stunted, it feels like he never comes alive. As a fan of The Missing, it gives me no pleasure to say Baptiste feels like a bit of a flop. I really disliked it. I found it really boring and I spent a lot of the first episode checking how much was left and sighing. It feels like a watered down version of a drama you could find on Walter Presents. It looks stunning, with Amsterdam looking gorgeous, but when you’re focused more on the scenery than the plot then a show has clearly lost you.
There’s a twist at the end that I’ll admit piqued my interest a little, as I didn’t see it coming, but by that point, the show had worn me down so much I’m not even sure I want to continue on to see where the story goes following the revelation. It is proof that even when you have a relationship with the character that won’t guarantee you’ll feel a connection or a kinship with the show.
As far as spin-off series go, it has more in common with Friends spin-off Joey than it does say, Fraiser. As much as fans adored Joey, it became quickly apparent that the world they put him in wasn’t as interesting as what had gone before and the character had no one interesting to counterbalance him either. In fact yes, I’ve convinced myself Baptiste is the BBC drama equivalent of Joey, which oddly could mean it lasts two years, but I think true fans of The Missing will be able to see through this and see it for the sadly empty vessel that it is. It may be that episode one just sets things in motion and that something absolutely riveting will follow, but as of right now, I’m happy to wait to hear if that happens without having to actually watch the second episode myself.
Baptiste continues Sunday at 9.00pm on BBC One.