July 9, 2014

THE SKED Series Premiere Review: “Finding Carter”


FINDING CARTER:  Tuesday 10PM on MTV – Potential DVR Alert

Most YA drama, in one way or another, is about the emotional dislocation of being a teen, and in recent years, the reigning trope has been to externalize the theme supernaturally:  the teen discovers that he/she is a vampire, an alien, a witch, a mutant, a savior–literally “divergent.”  MTV’s promising new series FINDING CARTER approaches the idea in a more literal way.

16-year old Carter Stevens (Kathryn Prescott) has a happy, close relationship with her single mom Lori (Milena Govich)–only to discover, when her fingerprints are checked after being taken into custody for a teen prank, that Lori isn’t her mother at all, but her kidnapper.  13 years earlier, Lori abducted Carter from her birth family, the Wilsons, and now Lori’s on the run (she’s enigmatically told Carter that there’s more to the story of her crime, but that’s all we know for now), and Carter’s been returned “home.”  The family she comes into is complicated and emotionally ragged, scarred by the years of Carter’s absence.  Her twin sister Taylor (Anna Jacoby-Heron) is a dutiful but resentful good girl, who’s been compensating for years for the loss of her sister; younger brother Grant (Zac Pullam) is mostly ignored, and he takes refuge in bitter one-liners.  Carter’s father David (Alexis Denisof) appears to be easygoing, but he’s a writer whose biggest success came from his memoir of the abduction, and pressure is on him to write–against Carter’s will–a follow-up.  Most difficult of all is Carter’s relationship with her biological mother Elizabeth (Cynthia Watrous), an emotionally broken, tightly-wound police detective who mostly expresses her anger and profound terror in unproductive ways, like the affair she’s been carrying on with her partner, and her quest to track down the woman who stole and raised her daughter.

Carter, whose upbringing with Lori has been this side of bohemian (sex, drinking and leisure drugs are part of her lifestyle) probably wouldn’t fit in with the Wilsons even in the best of circumstances, but she’s a live wire of anger and alienation thrown into this pool.  She’s also perceptive, intuitive and self-destructive; she knows within minutes just how to push Elizabeth’s buttons, and before long she’s semi-consciously making a play for Taylor’s best friend Gabe (Caleb Ruminer), despite knowing that her sister wants to be more than his buddy (lurking in the background: none of the teens know that Gabe’s father is Elizabeth’s lover), and even though Carter has her own boyfriend, amiable slacker Max (Alex Saxon).

All of this is skillfully set out in the pilot, written by series creator Emily Silver and showrunner Terri Minsky, and the show’s second hour, written by Minsky (both hours directed by Scott Speer).  The second episode gets down to the business of being a TV series about a girl in high school, but even here, Carter’s new sidekicks are a bit more interesting than the norm, school bookie/shady entrepreneur Ofe (Jesse Carere) and wealthy young artist Bird (Vanessa Morgan).  What sets Finding Carter apart from most teen and young adult shows (Chasing Life being a current egregious example) is that so far, the characters are relatively smart–they make bad, sometimes disastrous decisions (Carter is briefly in a coma after some party drugs), but those decisions flow out of their characters, not writers-room contrivances.  Carter is likable and, as played by Prescott, extremely charismatic, but she’s also got a mean streak (as she explains to another character, “My other mom’s a felon, and I take after her.”), while Elizabeth knows her singleminded pursuit of Lori will stand in the way of the relationship she desperately wants with her daughter, but she can’t help herself.  The dialogue, not unusually for this genre, tends to be on the bluntly clear side, especially in family therapy sequences, but there’s also a bracing amount of dry humor.

Although the production values of Finding Carter are standard for low-budget basic cable drama, the acting is first-rate, with Prescott, Watrous and Jacoby-Heron standouts for their ability to pull multiple motivations out of their characters’ actions.  Like The Fosters, another series that tries to deal with real-world teen problems at a heightened level, Finding Carter will have to find its balance between melodrama and believability.  Initially, though, it seems to have a strong handle on its arresting premise.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."