At last TVNZ scores a big show

STAR-STOCKED: Missing is high-calibre drama featuring New Zealand's own Cliff Curtis, centre.
STAR-STOCKED: Missing is high-calibre drama featuring New Zealand's own Cliff Curtis, centre.

Becca is a doting soccer mom who spends her days arranging pretty flowers - but boy, you wouldn't want to make her angry, on TV One's new Missing, Mondays.

When it comes to hand-to-hand combat  and it does often in this thriller  Ashley Judd's ex-CIA heroine is a lethal instrument. She has killed her first foe with her bare hands before the second advertising break, and maims a few others in the pilot series.

The moral of this story is already clear: never get between a lioness and her cub, specially if the lioness is a retired international covert operative who has kept in shape.

Missing is the latest high-calibre, film star-stocked TV hit from America, and has the added bonus of featuring Cliff Curtis in a seriously cool role. He says things like, "I want Becca Winstone in my office before this coffee gets cold!" and "If it were up to me you'd get one shot through the brainstem. Only problem is, you wouldn't feel the pain."

He's Dax, a CIA chief charged with bringing in the rogue former agent before a whole load of ancient buried international security secrets gets dug up. She's digging because someone has abducted her teenage son, Michael, and it has something to do with old CIA business which got her husband (Sean Bean) killed a decade earlier.

When she tells another spy chief, "I will do an-y-thing to get my son back", you believe her. An-y-thing includes trading an old operative, "Hard-Drive" (Lothaire Bluteau), whom she helped hide in the old days, to a homicidal French security chief (Joaquim de Almeida) who has big secrets to protect about his past treachery, which the hidden spy knows all about.

Becca's constant dilemma is that, though handing over Hard-Drive to the correct villain  once she can figure out who that is  could be the only way of getting Michael back, it's really hard to send someone to his death who has such an endearingly quizzical Gallic face, and a nice family into the bargain.

After this double episode, the plot is already fiendishly but satisfyingly complicated. The storyline is giving us by agonising degrees a few details of what Paul Winstone was working on in Rome when a car bomb killed him. So far, our best guess is that he was getting close to unmasking the evil French spy Lussier, but as with all these shows, it's going to get way more byzantine.

We know Dax has hidden his family in Britain because of whatever it was that happened. And we are beginning to have a shrewd idea that the politician in charge of Dax (Gina McKee) knows a lot more than anyone else about what's at stake. What we can't yet figure is who is in league with whom, and why Michael has been abducted.

The pace of this show is ideal, moving from intense, white-knuckle conversations to ferocious fight scenes to desperate chases and back. But the special feature of Missing is that its whole premise is the importance of one's family. Not only will Becca do an-y-thing for her son, but so will several other characters, secretly, for their families. You don't ordinarily get lump-in-throat moments in spy thrillers, but they occur here fairly regularly.

The other novelty is seeing a middle-aged woman acquit herself as intrepidly as Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossibles, slugging, bugging, scaling buildings, the works. And another: you don't see Tom Cruise or Bruce Willis slumping to the ground in floods of tears if one of their daring rescue missions hits a snag the way Becca does.

A further potential plus is either Paul Winstone isn't really dead, or there will be more extensive flashbacks. You don't hire Sean Bean to appear in a mere couple of scenes. And Keith Carradine is lurking to play Becca's mentor. Or is he?

As the second episode ended, Dax had done a pragmatic deal with the evil Frenchman to bring Becca in, with the proviso the Frenchman gets to kill Hard-Drive, while Michael's abductors had bundled him on to a light aircraft and carried him off to a secret location.

It's a relief to see TVNZ scoring the odd big-hit show so we don't have to watch absolutely everything decent behind a Sky pay wall.

One To Watch

Bikie Wars: Brothers in Arms  8.30pm, TV3

The final in this insightful dramatised portrait of the curious world of motorcycle gangs, chronicling the jockeying that led to the Milperra massacre in Australia, after clashes between the Bandidos and the Comancheros.

The Dominion Post