It seems that ABC’s short-lived attempt at child-abduction drama last year, The Family, only whetted the network’s appetite for families in peril. This season, we have Ten Days In The Valley, a clear timeline of the disappearance of 8-year-old Lake Sadler-Greene. What could be a connect-the-dots thriller we’ve seen many times before—the cops, the flyers, the multitude of suspicious characters—has some added elements to help this 10-episode road take some turns you’re not expecting. As with other shows this season, Ten Days focuses on the varying levels between truth and fiction, underlined here by the fact that Lake’s frantic mother, Jane, is a documentary filmmaker now working on a fictional cop show that looks a lot like this one. Jane tweaks real stories into fiction for a living, so is it any wonder that she can’t find her own way to the truth even when her daughter’s life is at stake?
Fortunately for us all, Jane is portrayed by Kyra Sedgwick, whose performance here is nothing less than masterful. Accidentally tripping on Special K mere hours after her daughter’s gone missing while on the trail of a drug dealer who might have some information: That’s a scenario that probably doesn’t come up often in acting class. Sedgwick is tasked with juggling not just a few emotions, but about 26—and she is such a pro, as well as a trustworthy, familiar presence, that the audience identifies with and roots for her immediately, even when Jane herself is being less than trustworthy.
Even better, Sedgwick is playing off of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, absolutely solid as John Bird, the detective in charge of the case. He takes such complete command of the situation, we would happily follow him right off of a cliff, and have little fear that he won’t get to the bottom of this situation eventually.
What the situation is, though, isn’t clear even after the first few episodes. Several people had keys to Jane’s house, so since there’s no sign of forced entry, we have a variety of possible suspects. Jane’s vindictive ex looks like trouble, and he’s sleeping with her naive yet duplicitous assistant. Jane’s housekeeper Bea and her boyfriend are in need of some quick cash. Also, the fact that Jane has a long history of going after corrupt police departments adds many more people to her rapidly growing enemies list, as does her infrequent drug habit. And what about her vindictive writers’ room, led by the return of Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Cosby Show’s Theo? Or the fact that one of Jane’s writers is sleeping with someone from the police department that’s trying to get advance copies of her scripts?
In only the first few episodes, the possibilities appear endless, adding necessary multiple options for this whodunnit. That said, the level of menace seems low: It’s safe to go out on a limb and speculate that there’s very little chance Lake won’t be reunited with her mother in the 10th episode. So we’re not as scared for the little girl as we are for Jane’s own journey: The trip to the drug house to find a possible witness seems particularly risky, especially since Sedgwick’s Jane appears so unhinged, we have no idea what she’s capable of. Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Bird’s solidity balances all that, as consistent as a battering ram as he calls Jane out on her frequent falsehoods. If only all the characters were as compelling. Poor Erika Christensen is saddled with a part that can be summed up in two words—“infertile sister”—and her husband’s not much help. It would be nice if Kick Gurry’s character was more than one-dimension villainous. But maybe they’re all just paling when compared to Sedgwick’s massive complexity: Jane is far and away the person we want to see most on the screen. Fortunately, she’s front and center a lot.
We want to know especially: How could a mother as devoted as Jane not tell the whole truth during the investigation of her daughter’s disappearance? Is she hiding even more than we imagine? Jane’s profession of blurring facts and fiction is the most interesting thing about her. It’s punctuated by all of those index cards in her cop show’s writers’ room. She’s used to controlling the story, and clearly, most aspects of her life. Now everything’s out of control, so the possibilities seem endless, both positive and negative. As Sedgwick takes the lead in Ten Days In The Valley, we’ll be compelled to watch just how far that lack of control takes her.