HOLLYWOOD -- The relationships between mothers and daughters are, without exception, complicated.
Just imagine the challenges facing a daughter with two mothers.
That's the scenario at the heart of Finding Carter, a complex and compelling youth-oriented drama that airs Tuesdays on MTV (check listings for time). The title character, played by Kathryn Prescott (Reign, Skins), is an average, fun-loving teen who has a seemingly perfect BFF relationship with her youthful single mom, Lori (Milena Govich).
Early in the series pilot, which aired a few weeks back on MTV (and, along with other past episodes, can still be streamed at www.mtv.ca), Carter's life is turned upside down after a teen-party prank leads to her being arrested with a bunch of her friends.
After a couple of think-about-what-you've-done hours in a jail cell, the others are set free with a warning not to reoffend. Carter is held back, and taken to an interview room, where she's told that her fingerprints match those of a three-year-old girl who was abducted a decade-and-a-half earlier.
The cool "mom" she worships and adores, as it turns out, is actually her kidnapper. And before Carter has time to absorb that life-shattering bombshell, the door opens and she's reunited with her "real" parents, Elizabeth and David (Cynthia Watros, Alexis Denisof) -- whom she doesn't recognize and of whom she has absolutely no memory.
Carter doesn't know these people, but now she has to go "home" with them, and try to make sense of a new life in which she has two parents, a twin sister, and a brother -- who calls himself "the replacement child" -- who was born after she went missing.
Meanwhile, her abductor/mom is forced to go into hiding as news of Carter's rescue makes headlines and a full-scale police/FBI investigation kicks into high gear.
It's a storyline that exists on multiple layers, but Finding Carter's executive producer says it has a simple set of emotions at its core.
"I have a teenage daughter, and we watch a lot of television together, and it was my absolute fantasy to write a mother/daughter show, a sort of Gilmore Girls kind of thing," Terri Minsky said recently during MTV's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles. "And when MTV sent me the script (by series creator Emily Silver)... and I read it, and it was, I don't know -- it was like this incredible gift from the universe just saying, 'Do you want to write a mother/daughter show? OK -- how about if you have two mothers?'
"This script is incredibly, incredibly personal to me."
Watros, who plays Carter's birth mom, Elizabeth, a work-obsessed cop who has been completely shut down since the day one of her twin daughters disappeared, said she didn't have to search far to find her character's emotional core.
"Well, I am a mother of twins... and I don't think that I had to dive too deep to feel the pain and agony that you must feel when you lose a child, (or) a child is missing," she explained. "I tap into that sort of despair easily because, you know, that would be my nightmare.
"The way that Terri (re-)wrote the script, it was really easy for me to just slide into that protective mother 'find my daughter' role, and Elizabeth... has shut down for a long time because a huge part of her died when Carter went missing. I can completely relate to that, that you lose the joy, you lose the lightness in you. Hopefully, as the season goes on, you will see a little bit of joy and lightness come back into Elizabeth. But, yeah -- it was really easy to tap into those emotions."
For series star Prescott, the challenge of Carter's journey was a bit more daunting, because her character -- up until the moment of her prank-prompted arrest in the series pilot -- was unaware that her life was anything but perfectly ordinary.
"I didn't actually do any research on child abductions, because (the way) Carter was brought up, that wasn't part of her life," said Prescott. "She didn't grow up knowing that she had been abducted; she grew up thinking she was just having a normal life. The family that she left behind when she was kidnapped grew up with that (anguish). She didn't. She's just had the rug pulled out from underneath her, and now has to deal with it. So I wanted to come at it from that fresh place of not knowing anything about it."
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @BradOswald