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American imports: horror, suspense shows

I finally caught up with several episodes of Missing (no, nothing to do with the fabulous Costa Gavras film of the 1980s). This Missing is an American TV series that debuted on Star World even before it did in the US. That’s a rare thing; in the normal course, we tend to see old seasons of foreign shows in India. Poonam Saxena writes.

tv Updated: Apr 13, 2012 23:57 IST
Poonam Saxena

I finally caught up with several episodes of Missing (no, nothing to do with the fabulous Costa Gavras film of the 1980s). This Missing is an American TV series that debuted on Star World even before it did in the US. That’s a rare thing; in the normal course, we tend to see old seasons of foreign shows in India.

This Missing is produced by actress Ashley Judd, who also plays the lead role of a mother (Rebecca Winstone) in search of her missing son (Michael). The twist in the story is that Rebecca, a seemingly ordinary woman who runs a florist shop, is actually a former CIA agent, whose husband (also in the CIA) was killed in a car bomb explosion. No one knows these truths about Rebecca’s past life, not even her son.

Michael goes to Rome for a summer course but then suddenly disappears. Rebecca hotfoots it to Rome, to find out where her son is and why he has been kidnapped. As she goes about her risky, hazardous mission, she is confronted by shocking revelations and runs (literally) into all sorts of dangerous situations. Ashley Judd plays it tough and grim (unsmiling eyes, set jaw, staccato dialogues), though the emotional, concerned mother does peep out every now and then. The series didn’t get uniformly flattering reviews in America, but I’m finding it gripping. The European locations are dazzlingly beautiful and the action has a slick, big screen quality to it. The plot has enough startling twists and turns to keep you waiting for the next episode.

Of course the other show that makes for compulsive viewing — and yes, I plead guilty, I wrote about it some weeks ago too — is the horror show, Supernatural. It has an almost cult-like following in America, primarily because of the dishy actors who play the two protagonists: Jensen Ackles (Dean Winchester) and Jared Padalecki who plays Dean's brother Sam.

The Winchester brothers have a traumatic past (their parents were killed by demons) and they spend their life criss-crossing the country in an old Impala car, hunting and destroying evil spirits and demons. Though Supernatural is a horror show and has the mandatory scary bits (other-worldly killers hiding in deserted towns and ruined buildings, skeletons rattling around in secret chambers etc etc), the show works because of the characters of the two brothers and their close but uneasy relationship. Dean is the bad boy — he gets all the smart one-liners and the pretty girls. Sam is the one with psychic qualities. Both display a hard, practical attitude to their work (such as it is), but underneath the cynical confidence lurk suppressed fears and sorrows.

I tried watching another horror show, American Horror Story, on FX but though it has a great cast (Dylan McDermott, Jessica Lange) and is quite nicely done, I couldn’t warm up to the show. Too depressing — all the characters are too traumatised and battling with too many issues, and they all look like they’re going to come to sad and bad ends. (That’s why I like Supernatural — though it’s horror, it’s entertaining).

I feel bad asking this question but here it is anyway: Despite having the best, most talented people in the world, why can’t our homegrown soaps and serials measure up to international standards? Whether it’s production values (we get pretty much assembly-line sets) or script and story consistency (only on Indian television can intense dramas suddenly morph into execrable comedies) or just the stories (it’s so hard to get away from the family angle here), there are miles to go.

I’m not suggesting we don’t have any good shows (of course we do) or that all international shows are good (of course they aren’t). But let’s just say that we can and should be doing much, much better.

poonam.saxena@hindustantimes.com