License article

Missing: series premiere, Tuesday, May 1

Channel Seven, 9.30pm

Rebecca ("Becca") Winstone is in her mid-40s and in terrific nick. She runs a flower shop and lives the comfortable life of a soccer mum. Winstone (Ashley Judd) is also a former CIA operative.

She gave up the secret-agent business 10-years-ago, when the Russians killed her husband with a car bomb, and for the past decade has been raising their son, Michael (Nick Eversman). But when Michael is kidnapped while studying in Italy, Winstone is on the first plane to Europe, determined to tear the place apart to get him back.

It's a nice idea - average mum turns into action mum to hunt down those who have taken her little boy - and a nice twist on similar plots. Think Liam Neeson rescuing his daughter from drug-running sex-slave traders in Taken, or rogue agent Kiefer Sutherland twisting the rules (and countless necks) to retrieve his kidnapped daughter in the first series of 24.

Mother's need instantly reactivates Winstone's dormant skills. Guns, motorbikes, boats, helicopters, security systems - you name them, she can shoot, drive, fly and hack them. And she can handle herself. Boy, can she handle herself. One opponent or four, armed or unarmed, male or female, she puts them away with a flurry of fists and feet as if she's doing dishes at the school tuck shop. Muscle memory plus maternal fury is a frightening thing to watch.

Unfortunately, that's all there is: a string of action scenes punctuated by formulaic plot points, no depth of storytelling or character. Winstone barrels from a gunfight in a flat in Rome to a Vespa chase through cobbled backstreets to another fight, this time on a train. She finds a clue to her son's whereabouts, which takes her to a new location where she has another fight and finds another clue. Cut to the CIA's Paris office where they're tearing out their hair over this rogue once-was-an-agent sidestepping protocol and crashing through a bunch of intelligence agencies' efforts to rein her in.

There we also get thick slabs of plot exposition to explain who's who, who's doing what and why they're doing it. Then it's back to Winstone in another fight, another clue and she's off to yet another gorgeous country.

Despite the pace and the dangers that rain down on Winstone, the whole enterprise lacks suspense and tension. The attempt to add family as a complicating emotional factor to the action genre just doesn't grab. Perhaps worst of all, the whole thing is humourless: there's not a wisecrack made that isn't grim-faced.

That's a shame, because Ashley Judd - who is also co-executive producer of the 10-part series - is better than this. Perhaps the dramatic revelation coming in episode four will save Missing from being a complete loss. But that will only work if you don't see it coming in episode one. And that's pretty unlikely.