ABC has built much of their lineup around compelling dramas with complicated female leads, often led by a recognizable actress. This fall, Kyra Sedgwick joins that esteemed lineup with Ten Days in the Valley, a limited series about an ethically gray heroine thrown into a dramatic situation. And while this episode lays the groundwork for an interesting series, don’t expect this pilot to grab you like any of the TGIT premieres.
Sedgwick stars as Jane Sandler, a television producer dealing with the mounting pressures around her new series, as well as a bitter separation from her husband (Kick Gurry). One night, while working hard on a stressful upcoming episode (and under the influence of drugs), Jane’s young daughter Lake (Abigail Pniowsky) is snatched from her bed, sending Jane’s life into a tailspin. While she first assumes that her husband, who she refused to renegotiate a custody agreement with, took her daughter, she eventually learns that this is part of a much greater conspiracy – and there is a long list of suspects that would want to hurt Jane.
While any story about a missing child would instantly grab a viewer’s attention, Ten Days in the Valley is too obvious in its set up and too slow in its pacing. Every plot twist in the premiere is practically telegraphed to the viewer and, once a new character emerges onscreen, it becomes only a matter of time before they reveal some characteristic that would add them to the suspect list.
The show is also juggling multiple threads that feel underutilized or unnecessary, including boring domestic plotlines, and an under-baked theme regarding police ethics. What the pilot gets right, however, is how they develop Jane as a character. Antiheroes have been all the rage on TV ever since Walter White made his debut, but writers often fail to find a decent balance between positive and negative qualities in their characters, usually making them far too likable or downright detestable. But Jane feels like an actual human being, and someone who the audience can cautiously root for while also wanting them to do better.
Of course, Sedgwick turns in top-notch work here, which certainly helps make the pilot more watchable. While she’s not given the same sort of dramatic material that ABC has given Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, and Priyanka Chopra before her, Sedgwick still manages to make an impression, and could be reason enough to watch the remaining nine installments. There are also some other impressive performances to watch, most notably Erika Christensen as Ali, Jane’s sister. While she’s saddled with a less than captivating subplot, she instantly makes the part her own and removes any similarities to her last regular role on NBC’s Parenthood.
The biggest problem for Ten Days in the Valley, however, might be its timeslot. Sunday at 10 PM is a certifiable bloodbath, with almost every network bringing out a heavy hitter in the hour. And, to make things worse, we’re in a Golden Age of Television – with streaming services and DVR, audiences are never short on top-notch programming to watch. If this series wants to survive, it will have to convince audiences that it’s worth their time, and fast. Sedgwick has brought her A-game; so let’s hope the writing follows suit soon.