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TV REVIEW : Nice Start for Formulaic 'Missing Persons'

THE NEW SEASON. One of a series.


Although not exactly an hour you'd want to plan an evening around, ABC's "Missing Persons" gets off to a nice start in its special premiere at 9 tonight on Channels 7, 3 and 10. Starting Sept. 23, its regular time slot will be 8 p.m. Thursdays.

The structure is essentially formulaic, pinballing back and forth among various cases worked by members of a Chicago Police Department's missing persons section headed by the all-wise Lt. Ray McAuliffe (Daniel J. Travanti).

Tonight, Johnny Sandowski (Fred Weller) searches for a 4-year-old separated from her mother on a commuter train. Bobby Davison (Erik King) investigates the disappearance of a 23-year-old female student. Connie Karadzik (Jorjan Fox) looks for a missing husband and McAuliffe joins Carlos Marrone (Juan Ramirez) in tracking down a vanished elderly woman.

One by one the cases get resolved, one of them ending up a murder. Although smoothly executed, it's pretty routine stuff.

What lifts "Missing Persons" above the norm and gives it at least somewhat of an edge, however, are two of its characters, the resourceful, corner-cutting, straight-talking Davison and the fatherly McAuliffe, whose gray, faceless-bureaucrat exterior masks intense emotions and a hair-trigger temper.

They're an interesting pair. Even with their flaws and eccentricities, though, Davison and McAuliffe join their colleagues in forming a monolith of goodness and compassion that gets a bit tedious.

The true missing person in this series is a police officer who doesn't always act virtuously.

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