Halfway through the premiere of “Five Days” — a missing-person mystery, told over five distinct days in hourlong, once-a-week installments — it’s easy to become bored and irritated. By the end of night one, however, the show grows intriguing, and the second and third episodes are more engrossing. Then episode four begins to drag, and the fifth hour feels like filler until the inevitable reveal, which, alas, isn’t equal to the build-up. HBO and the BBC can afford to gamble on this sort of collaboration, but stretching over five weeks simply injects too much stuffing into this character-laden souffle.
Written by Gwyneth Hughes, the project’s most ambitious aspect involves the period of time covered, with intervals from a few days to several weeks between each episode, forcing the audience to mentally fill in the gaps. In the process, the mystery shakes up lives as a media swarm ensues, much to the chagrin of both the family and the police investigating the case.
The plot involves a young mother en route to visit her great grandfather, stopping on the highway to visit a flower truck. Inexplicably, she disappears, leaving the two young children she shares with husband Matt (“As You Like It’s” David Oyelowo) to wander off on their own.
Was she abducted? Did her husband or someone else kill her? Or did she coldly abandon the kids and abscond with a lover — perhaps the father of her surly teenage daughter?
Intricately woven, the limited series takes its time and then some, incorporating a good Samaritan drawn into the course of events (Sarah Smart), the press-shy investigators (“Tsunami’s” Hugh Bonneville and another “Like It” alum, Janet McTeer) and the missing woman’s bereaved parents (Patrick Malahide and Penelope Wilton), whose fondness for and faith in son-in-law Matt is gradually tested.
“Five Days” slowly becomes a multifaceted exploration of politics — those within the family, those governing the police hierarchy, even those of the bloodthirsty press. Along the way, each constituency experiences a roller-coaster of emotions, and the performances are uniformly impeccable, adding weight and depth as the plot deepens. In a sense, the format is the anti-“24” — elongating time instead of compressing it.
Eventually, though, it’s hard to escape a nagging sensation that the ponderous pacing is merely killing time as the narrative lumbers toward a resolution, tossing in wrinkles and near-misses that become increasingly strained, or worse, irrelevant.
“Too much light’s like too much information,” Bonneville’s weary inspector muses at one point, gazing at the stars. “It gets in the way.”
There’s something to be said for the leisurely rhythm of “Five Days,” but ultimately, it demonstrates that an overabundance of time can prove equally deflating.