Is 'The Guilty' A True Story? This Dark Mystery Tells A Familiar Tale

Stop me if you've heard this one before: A child goes missing in a small town where people all know one another and this type of thing doesn't happen, then enter a detective, one with a child of their own and plenty of baggage. PBS' new miniseries drama The Guilty isn't based on a true story, but it closely resembles any number of other short cable series that have aired over the past few years. And, that makes sense, because The Guilty originally ran on ITV in the UK in 2013, back when this trend was just getting started.

Now, The Guilty will have to struggle to distinguish itself from the rest of the pack, even though it initially debuted before many of its imitators. But, if you experience deja-vu while watching the first episode, don't be alarmed or disappointed. Essentially, child murder crime fiction has become a little television mini-genre. And, all of the shows that The Guilty is so similar to are well-made an beautifully directed.

But, not everything about The Guilty is totally cliche. It's as interested in motherhood as a theme as it is the whodunit mystery, and it also shows more of the aftermath of a missing child — including some very unsavory remains that reopen a long-closed case in the premiere. Here's what you can expect come its Sunday premiere.

1. An Idyllic Setting

The Guilty is set in the small fictional British town of Arcadian Gardens, which is lush, green, and perfectly manicured. The town is more suburban than the seaside town of Broadchurch, but it's clearly designed to contrast the heinous crimes with the beautiful town.

2. A Small Town

The one thing pretty much every entry in this canon has in common. Even if the story does not take place in an extremely small town, it's at least focused on a tiny community. It has to, in order to make sure that everyone from the local grocer to the priest is a suspect.

3. A Female Hero

Tasmin Grieg is a wonderfully talented comedic actress (she's currently on Episodes), but this is her biggest dramatic showcase, just like Olivia Coleman on Broadchurch. And, her DCI Maggie Brand joins the ranks of the investigators in The Killing, Top of the Lake, and Vera.

4. Dual Timelines

The Guilty is the trailblazer on this one, moving between 2008 and the present. The Missing, which uses a similar structure to tell the story of a kidnapped child lost while on a trip to France, didn't debut until 2014, a year after The Guilty's first airing.

5. A Small Creative Team

Just like Season 1 of True Detective or Jane Campion's Top of the Lake, this show features a single writer and director duo, rather than the typical TV format of a room of writers and a bunch of directors. This results in a very cohesive, seamless transition between episodes.

6. A Short Season

The Guilty is short and sweet — just three episodes — and will air over the course of three consecutive Sundays. Probably the best part of these mystery shows is that they don't take very much time to reveal who the killer was, so you get just enough tension to carry through the course of the series, but it's not drawn out so much that it stops being compelling. That's probably the best benefit to The Guilty being an original story: The writer can wrap up the entire story without worrying about the messiness of real life.

Image: Courtesy of Hartswood 2013; Giphy (4); dgasfadmd/Tumblr