Back in January, Fox premiered Alert: Missing Persons Unit, a generic missing-person-of-the-week procedural with a ludicrous serialized plot grafted on top. It was inept and apparently successful enough to be renewed for a second season.
Like Alert: Missing Persons Unit, NBC‘s new drama Found is a generic missing-person-of-the-week procedural with a ludicrous serialized plot grafted on top.
The Bottom Line A clumsy hybrid.
Airdate: Thursday, Oct. 3 (NBC)
Cast: Shanola Hampton, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Kelli Williams, Brett Dalton, Gabrielle Walsh, Arlen Escarpeta and Karan Oberoi.
Creator: Nkechi Okoro Carroll
Both shows struggle to keep their weekly elements consistently interesting, and neither can figure out how to deliver exposition without having characters recite pieces of their biographies to other members of their crime-solving teams. And those serialized plots? So darned ludicrous.
Unlike Alert: Missing Persons Unit, however, Found is generally… Well, it isn’t good, but it has some underlying points that it wants to make about contemporary law enforcement, even if it rarely sticks with those points long enough to say anything persuasive. It has some characters who are complicated, despite the rampaging exposition. It generally looks like it was made by people who know what a TV show looks and feels like, though that show is more often in the darkly manipulative vein of Criminal Minds than anything less exploitative.
For want of a better comparative word, if Alert is inept, NBC’s Found is “ept.” I smell a hit!
Created by Nkechi Okoro Carroll (All American), Found stars Shanola Hampton as Gabi Mosely, a missing persons recovery specialist with a gift for public relations. Gabi runs a boutique firm specializing in finding people whom the D.C. police can’t be bothered to look for, including Black kids, undocumented workers and more. Boasting more than a few similarities to Olivia Pope from Scandal, Gabi is a fixer with an island of misfit toys to assist in her pursuit, people with specific areas of expertise and deep reservoirs of personal trauma all their own.
Her team includes a wealthy tech mastermind and agoraphobe (Arlen Escarpeta’s Zeke); a mother whose son’s disappearance left her with Sherlockian powers of observation (Kelli Williams‘s Margaret); a grouchy guy with military training (Karan Oberoi’s Dhan); and Lacey (Gabrielle Walsh), who is attending law school and has a connection to the team that the pilot oddly treats as a surprise, when it isn’t.
Providing assistance is D.C. detective Mark Trent (Brett Dalton), who is there to disapprove of the squad’s vigilante ethics and to constantly hit on Gabi in a way that is much creepier than the show seems to think it is, or maybe the creepiness is just a product of Mark’s mustache. Oh, and in two of the five episodes sent to critics, the official case that Mark is working directly connects to the otherwise random case that Gabi is investigating in a way that is either coincidental, egregiously silly or both.
The weekly mysteries are solid, if unremarkable, which also applies to the process necessary to solve them. It’s a lot of looking at social media profiles and, in the case of Margaret’s superpower, squinting at everyday objects. The only reason each case isn’t instantly solvable the second we spot the offending suspect is that everybody in Found is just a bit sleazy, which is very 2023-appropriate.
As for Gabi’s own trauma? Well, back in 2003, 16-year-old Gabi — viewers who have followed Hampton’s career since Shameless may be confused by how old the series is pretending her character is — was held captive for over a year by Sir (Mark-Paul Gosselaar). Sir kept Gabi locked up without contact with the outside world, and while it’s suggested that he never touched her inappropriately, he made her have excruciatingly pretentious dinnertime conversations about Shakespeare. He is, in short, a monster.
Decades later, Gabi is using her trauma for the public good, but she has a secret. It’s a secret that the end of the pilot treats as a shocking revelation, even though very few viewers will be shocked — in part because it’s a bit of a no-brainer and in larger part because NBC’s marketing campaign for the show has been cavalierly spoiling the “twist” for a while. Unlike the kid in the “I learned from watching you!” anti-drug commercial, I’m not going to spoil the twist. I will say that it’s entirely derivative — obvious comparisons include an Oscar-winning thriller, plus a very recent broadcast drama also executive produced by Greg Berlanti — and sucked me out of the realism of the show at every moment. And it’s absolutely the element that will keep many or most viewers returning to Found after the pilot.
The things I like about Found start with Hampton, who was constantly finding very real dignity in some of the most outlandish Shameless subplots and does the same here. Whether grandstanding for the media or exposing her unhealed psychic wounds, she’s completely convincing. Is she quite as convincing within the twist-driven subplot? Less so! But that’s not her fault. Almost nobody could be.
The twist puts the show’s story in a place that’s darker than any place Found or NBC are prepared to go. This extends to the ensemble as Found tries to be a show in which each character is more justifiably messed up than the next. But for all their damage, they still gather together for karaoke and victory drinks instead of going to therapy. Found initially wants to be evasive about what each of the characters have gone through, saving backstory for individualized episodic showcases. But thus far, the more welearn about these characters, the less sense they actually make as people. Or else it turns out that while general trauma is easy to empathize with, clumsily presented specific trauma can be distancing?
Unclear, but I give a lot of credit to Williams for excellently weathering the two early episodes that delve into Margaret’s past. Less convincing are the layers Found attempts to give Walsh’s Lacey, especially since the show’s big twist too frequently requires Lacey to be preternaturally perceptive and weirdly obvious at the same time.
Gosselaar has an appropriate unsettling intensity, but after five episodes I can’t shake the feeling that he’s doing one of those Criminal Minds-style “We took your favorite actor from childhood and let them play a psychopath for 42 minutes!” guest turns. Sustaining that kind of character across a full series requires complexities that have yet to emerge. I preferred his more nuanced version of jackassery in the first couple of episodes of ABC’s Will Trent earlier this year.
Found is two shows. There’s the show that Gosselaar is in, which might be trashy fun but is too similar to too many recent shows about charismatic serial offenders to count. Then there’s the present-day procedural that wants to comment on the way law enforcement and the media glamorize certain crimes and potential victims while ignoring too many others. The first show cannibalizes the second, resulting in an ungainly hybrid that is, if nothing else, still easily the year’s best broadcast procedural about a missing persons squad. So far.