'Finding Carter' review: Don't let MTV's surprisingly heavy new drama get lost in the shuffle

finding-carter-mtv-premiere-review.jpg "Finding Carter" is unlike any other show on MTV right now. And that's a good thing.

On a network known for its "Teen Moms" and "Teen Wolfs," one might be surprised to hear about the new series revolving around a girl (Kathryn Prescott, "Reign," "Skins") who finds out her mother Lori (Milena Govich) isn't actually her mother ... she's her kidnapper. After getting busted by the cops for partying with her friends, Carter's fingerprints lead the police to figuring out that her real identity is Linden, a girl that's been missing since she was three years old.

Cue the tearful reunion with her real family, right? Wrong. Seeing as how Carter has no memory of her real parents and siblings, and all she knows is her former "perfect" life with her "mother," the reunion is more like bomb being detonated in the middle of Carter's life. She can't say goodbye to the woman who raised her because she's on the run from the FBI now that they know where she's been hiding with Carter. She can't go home because that's not her home. 

Her entire life is uprooted and she has to move in with a new family of strangers: A strict, guarded mother, Elizabeth (Cynthia Watros), who's leading the FBI hunt for Carter's "mother"/kidnapper and clearly doesn't trust Carter. A father, David (Alexis Denisof, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel"), who made his living by penning a bestseller, "Losing Linden," all about the family's struggles with Carter's disappearance (and presumed death), but now the money's run out, and he has to decide whether to cash in on Carter's return with a follow-up book, which would betray Carter's trust. A twin sister, Taylor (Anna Jacoby-Heron), who never did anything wrong because she constantly lived in fear of the bad thing that happened to her sister, even though it turns out, the "bad thing" never actually happened since Carter is alive and was happy. A younger brother, Grant (Zac Pullam), who knows he's just Carter's replacement, and feels invisible to the rest of the family. 

The one bright spot in Carter's new life? A grandma and grandpa, who, when they hug Carter during her homecoming, spark some kind of primal recognition in Carter's brain. Maybe her memories of life before her abduction aren't completely gone after all? Maybe there is hope for her and her new/old family?

While the family dynamics in "Finding Carter" are certainly complicated and intriguing enough to fill up a full season's worth of drama, the fascinating part is how the show actually sets up Carter's "mother"/kidnapper as a sympathetic character. There are hints in the pilot that suggest that Lori -- a neighbor to Carter's family -- had her reasons to take Carter all those years ago, and that will definitely be explored later on in the season. 

Despite the heavy subject matter that would be more at home on HBO or some other network, "Finding Carter" is definitely in the right place. The subtle hints and references here and there to pop culture fit the demographic of MTV perfectly, from the Jesse Pinkman quotes to the Iggy Azalea soundtrack to Instagramming duck-face selfies. Even the out-of-date "Mean Girls" quote-off between two teens hits the right note of nostalgia (while skirting the line of being almost too cheesy) that this generation can't get enough of. 

Of course, just as with any other pilot, there are some flaws. Alex Saxon plays Carter's ex-boyfriend Max, but it's pretty hard to discern any differences from his "Finding Carter" role and Wyatt on "The Fosters." The same attitude, the same hair, the same clothes ... Wyatt and Max are identical. Plus, there are some predictable relationship issues that are introduced between a few characters that are more than a little groan-worthy in how cliche they are.

Those few issues aside, "Finding Carter" hits the ground running with an extremely compelling pilot. The action starts right away, and doesn't let up during the entire hour. Plus, based on the sizzle reel that airs after the episode ends, we haven't even begun to scratch the surface on all the drama that's going down this season. 

If you're looking for a heavy teen drama that explores complex relationships (between teens, adults, and teens and adults), check out "Finding Carter" when it premieres Tuesday (July 8) at 10 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.
Photo/Video credit: MTV