‘Alert: Missing Persons Unit’ Review: New Fox Procedural Packs on the Clunky Exposition

Scott Caan and Dania Ramirez lead the hourlong drama series about a specialized division of the Philadelphia Police.


The subtitle of “Alert: Missing Persons Unit” refers to a division of the Philadelphia Police where Nikki (Dania Ramirez) heads up an elite force of officers, well-trained in the art and science of tracking down victims of abduction and kidnapping. It’s a subject near to Nikki’s heart; six years ago, as explained in the first episode’s prologue, her son Keith was abducted at age 11, and never found. This tragedy contributed to the gradual disintegration of her marriage to Jason (Scott Caan), who was working overseas as a military contractor when his son was taken, and harbors guilt over not being there when it happened.

As the present-day timeline of “Alert” opens, Nikki and her new beau Mike (Ryan Broussard) have convinced Jason to come back to the Philly PD to work with them directly in the MPU. Jason has more difficulty signing Nikki’s long-overdue divorce papers than he does adjusting to a new job back in the public sector—maybe because the unit barely registers as different from his non-cop jobs (beyond, of course, its convenient and seemingly instantaneous access to SWAT teams). The characters treat the MPU like a family business. Technically, they’re beholden to the broader department; practically, they’re just another private security team.

The show itself feels the same way with respect to its nominally case-of-the-week structure. It purports to follow the team as they find one missing person at a time; the first two episodes, provided for review, are titled “Chloe” and “Hugo,” named for a young girl whose father may know more about her kidnapping than he lets on and a man abducted and tortured by a vengeful mother, respectively. These stories lend the episodes some temporary urgency. But what really drives the show is an unexpected first-episode break in Keith’s case — one that assures the storyline will not remain in the background as an “X-Files”-style character motivator. It’s a neat twist on the old standby of the crime-solving heroes haunted by a past case they couldn’t crack (with further twists that recall some other movies; revealing which movies would probably constitute spoilers).

So it’s understandable that the Keith story would divert interest from the episode-to-episode kidnappings that are at once high-urgency (the victim has only an hour to live!), ridiculous (… because a woman has poisoned her victim with fentanyl and won’t give him an antidote until he gives her information that he doesn’t actually have!), and so full of narrative shortcuts that they’re ultimately rendered kind of shruggy (the team finds out about the fentanyl torture through a sketchy company spying on people through their Smart TVs). This wouldn’t be the first procedural where procedure takes a back seat to a more compelling master plot.

But the show’s division of labor feels off. It still has to introduce a quirky supporting cast including “holistic” analyst Kemi (Adeola Role) and nerdy tech guru C (Petey Gibson) and get us up to speed on the (separate) personal lives of Nikki and Jason. In the second episode, all of this business makes the lead characters treat a completely momentous life change with confusing nonchalance.

This could just be early-series clunkiness that “Alert” will shake off. So far, though, much of the suspense feels overly goosed; this show all about missing persons opens with a big sequence where Jason… defuses a bomb in Afghanistan. Why exactly does his ex want to recruit him for this department again? Caan (who looks more like his late father James than ever) and Ramirez aren’t really at fault, but these characters don’t feel lived-in; they feel expositioned-about. It’s not a great sign when a fast-paced 44-minute network thriller still leaves you impatient to get to the good stuff.

“Alert: Missing Persons Unit” premieres on Jan. 8 after NFL on FOX before moving to its regular time period for Episode 2 on Monday, Jan. 9 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.