Eventually the Peak TV bubble will have to burst. What exactly that will look like is unclear, but the bottom line is that are a finite number of viewers available to watch an ever-increasing number of shows. What constitutes success in this new age is, to a certain degree, simply getting noticed. But as scripted television beings to crest 500 series a year, there are some smaller fish that are getting out of the game before bigger ones (like Disney and Apple) enter to dominate it.
That’s where we find WGN America, which in 2013 entered the Peak TV arena with the scripted series Salem, followed by more critically acclaimed fare like Manhattan and Underground, and the popular Appalachian-based series Outsiders. But by 2017, WGN’s parent company, Tribune Media, was ready to ratchet down original programming and focus instead on more cost-effective acquisitions. Since then, WGN’s lineup has focused largely on crime-related, internationally-produced series of varying quality like Bellevue, 100 Code, and Pure. And that brings us to the Canadian series The Disappearance, which originally aired in 2017 and has now made its way to us.
The Disappearance, a swift six-episode limited series that focuses on the aftermath of the kidnapping of a young boy, is likely to appeal to fans of crime shows in general and, potentially, Peter Coyote fans specifically (Coyote stars as the boy’s doting grandfather). But the draw for some (myself included) is Aden Young, the lead in SundanceTV’s incredibly soulful series Rectify. In it, Young portrayed a Georgia man who was wrongly accused of a crime, sitting on Death Row for 19 years until he was exonerated based on new DNA evidence. The series following the weeks after his release back to his family a “free” man, forever haunted by his time in solitary confinement and the scattered events of that tragic night. Young gave a spellbinding performance there, so the hope of that alchemy repeating itself in The Disappearance, where he plays the father of the missing boy, was palpable.
Unfortunately, The Disappearance does not deliver on that account or almost any other, though Young can hardly be faulted for it. The story is needlessly convoluted, with dialogue that focuses almost solely on exposition and sudden, unearned emotional escalations. There are twists (though crime show fans will spot the truth behind the kidnapping almost immediately), but the series never follows its most interesting threads. Instead, it sets up a plot that wants to subvert our feelings towards certain characters just for its own sake. The reveals, and the final scenes (all six episodes were made available to review) deliver almost nothing in terms of the characters’ journeys after Anthony (Michael Riendeau) is kidnapped. A lurching, completely unnatural time jump in the second episode also feels shoehorned in to make a particular plot point work, but it makes absolutely no overall sense. Further, The Disappearance ’s half-baked treatment of sexual assault and even abortion are just a few unforgivable sins in a show that wastes an immense amount of talent and potential.
When compared with a series like the emotionally engrossing, complicated, and stunningly filmed The Missing, which covers similar ground, The Disappearance feels at best like a pale imitation. The cast does what they can with the material, but hearing Coyote have to yell, more than once, about dead cats (“what did you do with the cat?!”) provokes all of the wrong reactions. (Young is compelling in the screen time he has, but we never get any real sense of his character). The time jump and the insistence on sticking to plot points over character development is the show’s ultimate downfall, because it’s a subject matter that requires far more than a rushed, cursory whodunnit.
All of this is to say that you should seek out Rectify instead, or any number of other crime-focused series (Happy Valley, Grantchester, Mindhunter, Wallander, Top of the Lake, certain seasons of Broadchurch and True Detective) that deliver both intriguing mysteries and emotionally satisfying arcs for their characters. The Disappearance has the trappings of a worthy series, but it never comes together in a way that feels essential, which is a shame. For some crime show fans, The Disappearance will provide just enough in terms of twists and potential interest to be worth watching in the background or without the need to engage more deeply with it—which, understandably, is part of the escapism we sometimes want from our media. Or maybe in a more apt description in terms of Peak TV, part of the noise.
The Disappearance premieres Tuesday, July 9th on WGN America.