'Absentia': TV Review

2/2/2018

Stana Katic tries to go gritty in this post-'Castle' drama, but there's too much implausible dumbness to make it work.

It's hard to imagine what was going on over at Amazon when the decision was made to go with Absentia, a relentlessly boring and predictable series that is both headlined and executive produced by Stana Katic (Castle) in what appears to be a misguided star vehicle.

Was there a perceived slowdown in the pipeline? Did Amazon need this Sony Pictures Television/Masha collaboration about, well, a woman who is kidnapped and tortured and presumed dead, only to materialize six years later as not only the prime suspect in a string of murders, but also someone who is annoyed that her ex married another woman in the interim?

Did Katic so desperately need to add some grit to her résumé after Castle that she chose this project, which can't seem to find a believable human emotion without it being incited by a bad decision from someone else that would, in no world, actually happen?

Absentia is just a messy TV series that at its best serves as a reminder that good writing is essential to the medium and that pouting and looking dour and confused is not really premium-cable-style acting. As a PSA for those issues, sure, go for it. As a series you'd want to invest in while drowning in countless great series around you? Nope.

That said, if you've ever wanted to see a series try to make Bulgaria look like Boston and pull several muscles in the process, Absentia is your show. (There isn't one credible Boston accent that I heard, but then again I could only get through a couple of episodes.)

Katic plays FBI special agent Emily Byrne, married to special agent Nick Durand (Patrick Heusinger), with a two-year-old son and a dog and happiness abounding in the snowy confines of Bulgaria, er, Boston.

Until she's ripped from that life and put into a box that keeps getting filled with water and drowning her, or nearly drowning her, over and over again, her only vision is a man in a mask creepily looking in on her. Six years pass. Everybody has long since thought she's dead.

Nick has married Alice (Cara Theobold) and she has helped raise the boy, now eight. Life in Bulgaria is good. But then Nick gets a call, ostensibly from serial killer Conrad Harlow (Richard Brake), who is in prison for Emily's murder. The voice on the phone in the middle of the night tells Nick that Emily is alive and he has 60 minutes to save her. He jumps out of bed and as Alice sleepily and then frantically asks him what's going on, he doesn't say a word — not one; he just races to the car with her chasing him and asking him what's going on and where he's going, only to see him peel out and leave her behind. You would think that he'd have the decency to say, "Stop nagging me! I'm racing off to save my first wife who we thought was dead and whom I still have feelings for! Stop being so inquisitively demanding!"

Yeah, Absentia is that kind of show. Over and over and over and over again people do things that they would never do in real life. Because the writers apparently think that's drama. Bad decisions equal drama. Silence equals drama. Being asked to explain things and then rushing off without answering them is drama. Doing stupid things is drama.

You want drama? Try passing off Bulgaria as Boston. Let's see you do that.

A series of international actors seem partially committed to their roles — and maybe that's because of the dumb dialogue or motivation they've been given. The passion is not there. Maybe they just wanted to catch a Patriots game between shooting days, but all they could get was a friendly soccer match between CSKA Sofia and Levski Sofia, which really isn't the same thing (but probably light years more exciting than Absentia).

Katic has a lot of loyal fans from her Castle days, so maybe they'll tune in to watch her do dumb things like visit her alleged abductor, the serial killer, in his apartment, without backup or, apparently, any kind of weapon.

She's also forgotten how to drive, it seems, and her brother decides to reteach her but, in one of the weirdest and funniest things about Absentia, doesn't take her to a remote parking lot in Bulgaria to practice but instead has her try to pull into traffic on a busy intersection, as one does.

If you like dubious-motivation dramas, then Absentia is for you. Amazon has lots of other, more interesting titles, by the way.

Cast: Stana Katic, Patrick Heusinger, Cara Theobold, Angel Bonanni, Ralph Ineson, Bruno Bichir, Neil Jackson

Creators/writers: Gaia Violo and Matt Cirulnick

Director/executive producer: Oded Ruskin

Available now on Amazon Prime Video