[06/06/06 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Traveler" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

With the official start of the 2006-07 season less than three months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month or so previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at one of the 39 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.

There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entry:

(TBA at midseason)

The network's description: "Jay, Tyler and Will are friends who have spent the last two years in grad school. They are about to depart on a summer trip when a simple prank to rollerblade through one of New York City's most famous museums makes Jay and Tyler prime suspects in a terrorist bombing that destroys the museum seconds later. Hopeful that Will can help clear up this misunderstanding, they learn he's been missing since the explosion and think he may be dead. They're unable to turn to authorities when they realize they can't prove Will even exists. In every photo from the past two years, he has managed to block his face. Who will believe them? Friends, family, lovers? The boys are pawns in a conspiracy that will take years to unravel, and the government may not have their best interests at heart. Their friendship will be tested like never before as they try to uncover the truth, while avoiding detection of not only the FBI, but everyone in America who has seen their faces on TV as suspects in the bombing. Director David Nutter, who has defined many series including "The X-Files," "Without a Trace" and "Supernatural," along with the writer of "Eight Below" and the Oscar(r)-winning producers of "American Beauty" combine "The Fugitive" with "Enemy of the State" in a taut, tense thriller of innocents on the run. Flashing back to the prior two years to illustrate the formation of this friendship and Will's insidious behavior, this action-packed drama taps into our paranoia with pure adrenaline-fueled entertainment. Matthew Bomer ("Tru Calling") and Logan Marshall-Green ("The O.C.") star."

What did they leave out: Gillian Jacobs, who plays Kimberly, the girlfriend of Matthew Bomer's character, is apparently being recast.

The plot in a nutshell: The pilot begins "in medias res" as twentysomethings Jay Burchell (Matthew Bomer) and Tyler Fog (Logan Marshall-Green) frantically open their hotel room door and turn on the TV, where they're shocked to discover they're the prime suspects in some sort of terrorist attack. Making matters even worse, their friend Will Traveler (Aaron Stanford) is missing, presumably killed in said attack. From there we jump back 24 hours and formally meet the group - it seems the trio - all friends from Yale grad school - were about to set out on a two-month road trip from New York to San Francisco as a final farewell before they begin their respective careers (Jay a lawyer, Will a chemical engineer and Tyler to follow in his mogul father's footsteps). To celebrate their last chance to have some fun, they opt to have one final night in New York at a swanky hotel and say goodbye in style. Jay however seems the least comfortable about the trip as he desperately misses his girlfriend (Gillian Jacobs) but some prodding from Tyler and Will makes him willing to go along - after all, as Tyler notes, they each have a role to fill - Will (always carrying a video camera) is the planner, Tyler (always typing into his Blackberry) is the money and Jay is the one who will keep them out of trouble.

The next day, Will gets the idea to relive one of their old college pranks - rollerblade from the top to the bottom floor of the Guggenheim (or the Drexler Museum as it's referred to in the actual pilot), the winner of which gets out of driving the first leg of the trip. Jay reluctantly decides to play along and (in what's really a spectacular sequence) they begin to race down the large staircases, attempt to avoid tourists and dodge the security guards - eventually reaching the exit. Coming off the rush, Jay and Tyler realize Will was separated from them and give him a call. "Did you get out?" Will asks. Jay confirms. "I'm sorry I had to do this," Will adds before BOOM - the top levels of the museum explode (in yet another really spectacular sequence). From here we sync up with the opening moments of the pilot. Jay wants to call the cops while Tyler opts to call his father (the always great to see William Sadler). It's here we also meet the F.B.I.'s agent in charge (the equally as great to see Steven Culp) and his talented agents (Viola Davis, Anthony Ruivivar). Jay tries to explain what happened but the F.B.I. will have nothing of it while Tyler's father tells him there's something bigger going on and they must run for it. With sirens quickly approaching the hotel, Jay agrees to make a run for it, but only so they can find Will and figure out what happened. Like most serialized pilots, it'd be unfair for me to say any more but suffice it to say everything leads up to a couple "holy shit" moments that will send Jay and Tyler on a chase across the country.

What works: There's a reason all of David Nutter's pilots get picked up ("Traveler" is his 12th consecutive pilot to make it to series) - he just knows the ins and outs of how TV dramas should work. There's a pace and style to "Traveler" that's unlike anything out there on TV - it's literally one giant, relentless chase scene with only a few stops to catch your breath. An enormous amount of credit also goes to the three leads - who manage to make us care about them after just a few scenes, not to mention believe in their friendships enough to also feel betrayed by Will's actions. There's also a refreshing take on the whole "conspiracy" genre - instead of being bogged down by scenes of talking heads and mustache-twisting villainy, we literally have no idea what's going on. We're in Jay and Tyler's shoes - we know they're not guilty and we're just as confused and scared as they are. All they/we know is they have to keep running, no matter what the cost.

What doesn't: Obviously shows like this bring up questions of how it will work years down the road and if it's sustainable as a weekly series. While valid queries, shows like "24," "Lost" and "Prison Break" (who were all bogged down by similar questions when they started) have proven if you just sit back, relax and let the producers tell the story - amazing things can happen. "Traveler" is one of those shows. More to the point, after the pilot ends - you want the second episode to start NOW. And that's all we can ask of TV, right?

The challenges ahead: With a midseason berth the question becomes where to put this type of show - it's serialized aspects certainly make it a prime fit for the post-"Lost" slot, but there's no guarantee that slot will be available next year. Let's hope "Traveler" doesn't get lost in shuffle.

  [june 2006]  


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