MTV isn't really known for dramas. On Tuesday, the former music television network takes a significant step away from overdosing its viewers with formula junk with the new series "Find ing Carter."

At 16, Carter Stevens (Kathryn Prescott) has a mom, Lori (Milena Govich), who seems just about perfect, the kind of mom any teenage girl would want: loving, attentive, but also understanding that her daughter is growing up and needs space to make her own decisions about some things.

Then one day, Carter's life is completely upended when she's told that she is really the daughter of David and Elizabeth Wilson (Alexis Denisof and Cynthia Watros), that she has a twin sister, Taylor (Anna Jacoby-Heron), and a younger brother named Grant (Zac Pullam). The woman she thought was her mother and loves dearly kidnapped her when she was 3.

What Carter's always thought of as her real life is suddenly gone and seemingly out of reach. She accepts that the Wilsons are her biological family and makes an attempt to adjust to the abrupt shift in her life, but largely as a way of finding some ground beneath her feet again.

The Wilsons seem nice enough and rather average. Dad is a writer who authored a book about his daughter's kidnapping and Mom is a cop, Grant is a typical youngest child, often overlooked and kind of a wise-ass, and Taylor is everything Carter is not: Shy, awkward, not yet comfortable in her skin as a young teenager.

Now Carter is caught.


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She still maintains ties to her old boy friend Max (Alex Saxon) and misses her "other mom," but the rest of her old friends seem to have disappeared. Her identity is so conflicted she insists that the Wilsons call her by the only first name she's ever known, the name Lori gave to her: Carter.

"Finding Carter" stands out by avoiding the obvious. Carter's kidnapper has been a great parent, from everything we know. Her real mother wants to re-assume her role in her daughter's life, but she's not perfect -- she's made mistakes as a mom and, as it turns out, as a wife.

The show is really a subtly dramatized exploration of the nature-nurture debate. Carter is who she is because of how she's been raised for 13 years of her life.

At the same time, of course, Carter cannot simply turn her back on the woman who raised her.

The cast is uniformly good and the younger actors are notably credible as real teenagers. Prescott is terrific. You cannot take your eyes off her as she explores the complexities and challenges of being a young girl whose life is suddenly pulled out from under her.