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Something's missing in new Fox series 'Vanished'

Signing on for serial shows such as Fox's new ``Vanished" is a scary business for those of us who may have commitment issues. Skip a single hour, and you could miss the one pivotal clue that will unlock all. And yet if you stick with the show in sickness and in health, and it is prematurely cancel ed, you're left alone, betrayed, your trust and faith critically injured.

Just ask grieving fans of ``Invasion," if you can lure them away from their mail-in campaigns.

The premiere of ``Vanished," tonight at 9 on Channel 25, doesn't inspire an instant commitment the way the premieres of ``Prison Break" and ``24" did. It's a serialized thriller that promises to behave too much like a stretched-out episode of ``Without a Trace." The first hour (directed by executive producer Mimi Leder) is entertaining enough, but it isn't pregnant with original plot possibilities for the future. And the real test of a serialized thriller is its ability to branch into the unexpected as the long season unfurls.

``Vanished" begins with the disappearance of Sara Collins (Joanne Kelly), the second wife of Georgia Senator Jeffrey Collins (John Allen Nelson, who played the chief of staff who was found hanged last season on ``24"). FBI agent Graham Kelton (Gale Harold) shows up to help, and we are immediately thrown into a familiar kidnapping scenario where everyone , including the senator and his two children , is a suspect. (``Kidnapped," which premieres on NBC next month, mines the same territory at a slower pace.) We have seen this setup on every crime procedural ever made.

And of course we're led to wonder if there is a government conspiracy afoot in ``Vanished." All post-``24" serialized thrillers are required to ``travel to the top," as they say.

Kelton is a no-nonsense hero who is willing to offend anyone to solve a crime. He gets along with his partner (Ming-Na), but he clashes with a pushy TV reporter (a miscast Rebecca Gayheart) who keeps broadcasting facts he'd rather keep quiet. He despises her because she's in no rush to find the senator's wife, so she can milk the story for more airtime. Kelton is smug and snide, and he's ridiculously resourceful when it comes to science and technology; but Harold makes him likable, much in the same way he made his vain cynic in ``Queer as Folk" into more than just a tall order of bad attitude.

Collins and his kids aren't the only suspects Kelton will come across. Collins' s ex-wife, who is not in tonight's episode, may be involved (she will be played by Penelope Ann Miller). The president may play a role, since he has been using emissaries to pressure Collins to support his latest Supreme Court nominee. And Collins' s daughter's boyfriend is behaving strangely, and has a bloody shirt and a bag of money to explain.

Who dun it? If they're going to take months to tells us, the writers of ``Vanished" have to make us care.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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