RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
A new ABC series, called "Missing," debuts tonight. It features Ashley Judd as a woman tracking her teen son in Europe who's mysteriously disappeared. TV critic Eric Deggans says the series is part of a new TV trend this spring: shows that are more experimental and edgy.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Would you believe Ashley Judd as a mom who works as a florist, but also used to be a deadly CIA operative?
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MISSING")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: (As charactor) The truth is, she wasn't much of an agent. There's hardly anything in her file. She's basically spent the past 10 years on the PTA and as a scout leader.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As charactor) I was a Boy Scout. Den mothers do not kill (unintelligible) assassins.
DEGGANS: Well, apparently, den mothers do - at least on network television. Judd plays a soccer mom breaking arms and strangling thugs across Europe, like an odd mix of "The "Bourne Identity" and Liam Neeson's "Taken."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MISSING")
ASHLEY JUDD: (As Rebecca Winstone) Agent Miller, I really don't have time for games. Now, I've told you a little about me, and you just told me everything I need to know about you. You don't have children.
DEGGANS: No decent scriptwriters, either. "Missing" is a great gamble of a show: big star, huge concept, sprawling locations. But the pilot feels derivative, and even a little silly. Picture a 100-pound actress tossing around grown men in a fight, and you see what I mean.
It's also evidence of a new trend. Years ago, networks would debut their cheesiest programs now, throwing on seriously flawed shows to fill time between important ratings periods in February and May. But now, towards the end of the TV season, networks are rolling out their riskiest and most distinctive series ideas - outside the stampede of new shows that typically start in the fall.
Consider NBC's "Awake," which takes a risk by being complex. "Harry Potter" alum Jason Isaacs plays a police detective who wakes after a car crash to find he's moving between two different realities. Here, a therapist in one reality tries convincing him it's all a dream. But he - and we viewers - know better.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AWAKE")
B.D. WONG: (As Dr. Lee) Let me be clear, detective. Your condition is the result of a deeply fractured psyche. It is a problem. It is not a tool.
JASON ISAACS: (As Michael Britten) Well, you can call it whatever you like, doctor. I seem to be doing all right with it.
DEGGANS: This might be the most ambitious attempt to reinvent the cop drama yet. It keeps viewers guessing by sprinkling clues across two different worlds.
But ABC is taking a different risk with two other shows. They use the letter B in their title, instead of profanity referring to women. In "Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23," that word describes the worst roommate in the world.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DON'T TRUST THE B IN APARTMENT 23")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: (As charactor) She replaced my birth control pills with breath mints.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As charactor) I don't know how she got my fingerprints on the handgun.
DREAMA WALKER: (As June) She'll eat your yogurt out of the fridge when it clearly says June.
DEGGANS: In "GCB," B is a shorthand for wealthy, Christian ladies capable of some serious backstabbing.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GCB")
KRISTIN CHENOWETH: (as Carlene Cockburn) Ladies, it is not appropriate to speak of such things on the phone. I'll see you in church.
DEGGANS: In both cases, it feels a little like fake risk. It seems cutting edge, but comes off as kind of cheap. As controversy builds over how Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher talk about women, it only makes these shows look worse. Maybe when it comes to an idea dopey as putting the B-word in a TV series title, you're better off hiding in a crowd.
MONTAGNE: Eric Deggans is TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.