A road too well traveled
ABC serial thriller is another roller-coaster ride, but viewers might be too weary to go along
When it comes to conspiracy thrillers, "24" has completely wrecked us. Since nothing and no one is ever trustworthy on "24," each week brings on a new shocker, a devastating betrayal, an even-bigger-than-last-week link to a world-threatening scheme. Writers used to save change-ups for sweeps episodes, but "24" is a freefall change-up, a sweeps stunt ad infinitum. Now, like potheads , we need to feel constant paranoia or we're bored and fall asleep.
"Traveler," a new ABC serial thriller, is a "24" baby. It will likely proceed from tonight's action-packed premiere, at 10 on Channel 5, to remind us that since 9/11, everyone -- from the president of the United States right on down to your best friend -- is suspect. There will be adrenalized street chases and ultra-close calls, there will be cool surveillance tools and digitized disasters, there will be token women for romantic interludes with our men on the run. There will be cell phones.
And, as "Traveler" scurries forth, there will not be character. Alas, show creator David DiGilio forgot to put distinct personalities on his fast-moving bodies. The setup has three generic college grads embarking on a Jack Kerouac-inspired cross-country trip before settling into straight adult lives. But of course things go terribly wrong terribly fast. After rollerblading through New York's fictional Drexler Museum of Art as a prank, the museum explodes. Two of the guys, Jay Burchell (Matthew Bomer) and Tyler Fog (Logan Marshall-Green) , are safe, but the third, Will Traveler (Aaron Stanford) , is missing. And Will appears to have framed his two pals for the crime.
Was Jay and Tyler's best friend a suicide bomber? Is this frame-up related to the fact that Tyler's wealthy father was indicted during the Iran-Contra scandal? And is it relevant that Jay's father killed himself after being court-martialed for a friendly-fire incident in Iraq? Why is the hotel concierge so helpful to the two fugitives? The questions don't stop coming at us during the first hour of "Traveler," and on one level it's hard to know where the story will go in future episodes, now that Kerouac has given way to a hyperactive, hyperbolic Hitchcock.
On another, more important level, we know exactly where "Traveler" will go, which is from reveal to reveal, and from the man behind the man to the man behind the man behind the man, until we no longer care. "24" has struggled with the same road-to-nowhere plotting, especially during this current season, and other serials such as "Lost" and "Prison Break" are no strangers to it either. I see only spinning wheels in the future of "Traveler."
By the way, "Traveler" was on ABC's docket before this season saw America come down with SSB: Serial Show Burnout. The series was on deck for airing as an army of serial thrillers fell down in defeat, including "Kidnapped," "Vanished," "Day Break," and "The Nine." Now we all know for sure that viewers are hesitant to take on shows such as "Lost" that require intense loyalty; after so many serials died without plot resolution this year, viewers are even more wary. "Drive" lasted only four episodes on Fox last month. Will "Traveler" last four, too?
And so ABC seems to have mixed feelings about the show's prospects. It is premiering the series after a new episode of "Grey's Anatomy" tonight; that's the kiss of life. But then the network is not bringing "Traveler" back for more episodes until May 30 in a Wednesday at 10 p.m. slot. Go figure. By then, audiences probably won't be any less nauseous at the idea of getting on another speedy roller coaster, especially one that will probably stop short mid-ride.