James Nesbitt James Nesbitt

The worst part is not knowing. And while eight years of devastating uncertainty have destroyed Tony Hughes's life, this grieving father's resolve never weakens in the relentless hunt for his beloved son Oliver, who vanished in an instant on a summer night in 2006.

Premiering Saturday (9/8c) on Starz, which is on a high-quality roll of late, The Missing is an excellent eight-part British mystery reminiscent of The Killing and Broadchurch in its brooding anguish. The feeling of disoriented panic is intensified by staging the boy's tragic disappearance during a family vacation in France (filmed in beautiful Brussels), where the parents can't speak the language — and where the revelry surrounding the ongoing World Cup soccer games provides a jarring contrast to their fear and despair.

The smartly constructed story, written by brothers Harry and Jack Williams, toggles in time between the immediate aftermath of 5-year-old Ollie's disappearance and present-day intrigue in 2014, when the obsessed father Tony (James Nesbitt) — now something of a pariah in the small village which has never quite recovered from this tragedy — latches onto a new clue that reignites the long-dormant investigation, leading to breathtaking, sometimes heartbreaking, revelations and cliffhangers.

As Tony, Nesbitt is electrifying, all coiled fury and clenched fists, while Frances O'Connor as (eventually ex-) wife Emily sensitively conveys the emotional toll of someone trying to move on with life. "Nothing is certain," a now-retired detective (Tcheky Karyo) keeps reminding Tony. Maybe not, except for The Missing's ability to keep viewers riveted through each shocking twist.

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NO GRINCHES ALLOWED: Every year, it seems the Christmas lights get turned on earlier (ditto with the advertising). And with Thanksgiving not quite two weeks away, the onslaught of holiday TV-movies, on a variety of cable channels, has already begun — nowhere as relentlessly as on the Hallmark Channel, which slightly misleads any viewer who might think Saturday's new entry is mostly about Northpole (8/7c), the sprawling and colorfully computer-generated home of Santa and his toy-churning elves. Whatever novelty exists in this exceedingly sweet movie lies in the casting of Robert Wagner and Jill St. John in fleeting cameos as Santa and Mrs. Claus (suggesting Northpole may be Aspen-adjacent).

Most of the movie is more earthbound, set in a snowy, bucolic Anytown where 10-year-old Max (a charming Max Charles) frets that everyone has lost the Christmas spirit, including his single mom (White Collar's Tiffani Thiessen), a reporter busy investigating why the locals have canceled the annual tree-lighting ceremony. Enter one of Santa's spunkier helpers, an elf named Clementine (Bailee Madison), who shares Max's concern, for good reason. She has evidence that the Northern Lights — which help fuel the magic snow that creates the toys, or some such theory — are beginning to dim as a result of society's apathy. So armed with a cheerful attitude, evidenced by her habit of saying "Snow-my-gosh," Clementine urges Max on to fulfill his school project, overseen by the super-nice teacher (Cougar Town's Josh Hopkins) who catches mom's fancy and vice versa, and get the lights turned back on.

If you're hoping for the gift of surprise, you won't find it here. It's all very traditional, conventional, satisfying for those who like their schmaltz as concentrated as a double espresso while the actors grin their way through all the Christmas corn. I would have preferred a little more time spent in Northpole itself. Maybe in the sequel, because Hallmark is probably already busy conjuring up next year's batch of holiday TV treats.

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