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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:
(Mondays at 9:00/8:00c this fall)
The network's description: "SARA (Joanne Kelly, "Whiskey Echo") is the beautiful young wife of prominent Georgia Senator JEFFREY COLLINS (John Allen Nelson, "24"), and she has gone missing. But before the FBI can solve the mystery of where she is, they first need to figure out who she really is. Through the eyes of Senior FBI Agent GRAHAM KELTON (Gale Harold, "Queer as Folk," "Martha Behind Bars"), ambitious reporter JUDY NASH (Rebecca Gayheart, "Nip/Tuck," "Harvard Man") and the distraught members of the Collins family, viewers will journey inside a sensational, mysterious national soap opera. Kelton, working with Agent LIN MEI (Ming-Na, "ER"), uncovers enigmatic clues that suggest Sara's disappearance may be part of a large, sinister conspiracy. Created by Josh Berman ("CSI: Crime Scene Investigation") and directed by executive producer Mimi Leder ("The Peacemaker," "Deep Impact"), VANISHED combines the investigative twists and turns of "CSI," the nonstop pace and tension of FOX's "24" and the scope of "The Da Vinci Code.""
What did they leave out: Penelope Ann Miller and Esai Morales both joined the cast after the original pilot was filmed. Miller will play Jessica, the ex-wife of John Allen Nelson's character, who briefly appears in the pilot (apologies, as I didn't recognize the original actress) and Miller is set as Kyle Tyner, the new supervisor of the high-stakes FBI investigation team.
The plot in a nutshell: Schoolteacher Sara Collins (Joanne Kelly), the young wife of maverick Republican senator Jeffrey Collins (John Allen Nelson), is preparing for a banquet in which her charity work is being honored. And despite some last-minute test grading and a somewhat unsettling phone call from an unspecified person, she's in good spirits. After all, she's living a fairy tale life. At the banquet however things take a turn for the worse as she's told by a concierge that she's received an urgent phone call and minutes later - she and said concierge disappear, leaving behind a homemade necklace given to her by one of her students. Shortly thereafter the F.B.I. is on the scene, where we meet our hero - Graham Kelton (Gale Harold), who's still recovering from a previous incident (shown in flashback) in which a young boy named Nathan Miller was killed. It's scarred him enough to be bitter about his bosses (who he blames for Nathan's death) but not so much that he didn't take the blame for said event. In any case, he's joined by Agent Lin Mei (Ming-Na) and after some forensic theatrics they've got their first lead - Mark Valeros, the concierge. They're also told that Marcy (Margarita Levieva), Jeffrey's daughter from his first marriage, hasn't been located and could be missing as well.
As luck would have it though, she's just snuck off to see her boyfriend and - like all teenagers on TV - hates her parents (making a S.W.A.T. team barging in on them less than helpful). Conversely, Marcy's brother Max (John Patrick Amedori) is more than willing to assist, telling Kelton and Mei that "something" happened to her last year that's causing her current behavior. As for the concierge, it's not long before his body turns up with an antique bullet in the head and the number 9 tattooed on his hand post-mortem. Between all this we meet Judy Nash (Rebecca Gayheart), a bloodhound TV reporter, and her cameraman/boy toy (Robert Hoffman) - the former of which covered Nathan's kidnapping - much to Kelton's chagrin - and will do anything to get a story. We also stumble upon a few other details - most notably that Sara had apparently gone missing once before, Marcy's boyfriend is hiding a gym bag full of money and a bloody sweatshirt, Jeffrey is being pressured by Steve the drunk from "Deadwood" (Michael Harney) to confirm the President's Supreme Court nominee, the Collins marriage may not have been perfect, Sara had been meeting Jeffrey's ex in secret and Sara herself may be pregnant. This all leads to the big climax in which we think we'll find Sara, but instead are sent off in a totally different direction.
What works: Ummm...
What doesn't: ...this is 100% not the show you are expecting, and not in a good way. The best way to describe "Vanished" is a take a sub-par episode of "Without a Trace" and tack on a bizarre, borderline nonsensical twist at the end as an excuse to continue the case to the next episode. Even worse is that the overall tone of the show is very procedural - i.e. get a lead, lead turns into dead end, use forensics to find a new lead, wash, rinse, repeat - so much so that if they found Sara at the end you'd think this was the pilot for another missing persons procedural instead of the start of a proposed season-long arc. In other words, there's not really a sense that what's happening is part of something bigger, stuff just sort of happens. This would all be forgivable though if the show actually featured interesting, likeable characters. Outside of Kelton (whose only character traits are that he has a daughter, keeps a healthy stubble and is haunted by the Nathan's death), everyone is more or less a cipher - Mei just nods next to Kelton, Marcy just pouts, Jeffrey just looks concerned, etc. Basically don't go in expecting "Prison Break" or "24" - which for all their fantastical twists and turns, populate their respective worlds with a wide variety of characters (from the offbeat to the serious) you can latch on to and cheer for/root against. "Vanished" just feels like a group of bland procedural characters forced to stick with the same case all season. Overall, considering its promise of a "sensational, mysterious national soap opera" one can't help but be disappointed.
The challenges ahead: Will serialized-minded "Prison Break" viewers stick around for the procedural-minded "Vanished?"