Thursday, May 10, 2007

T.V. on TV: Traveler

ABC’s Traveler, debuting tonight at 10 after Grey’s Anatomy, is a lot of fun, but it exposes one of television’s weaknesses as a medium, specifically in regards to the serialized dramas that are all the rage recently. When the pilot is working, it moves like a rocket, never stopping to let you think too hard about just how implausible the whole thing is. But the very fact that it arrives last in a season littered with the wrecks of other serialized shows -- some better and some much, much worse than Traveler -- casts a bit of a pall over it. When I first saw the pilot last summer, I thought it was one of the better ones of the young season. But when I watched it again this week, it was hard not to yawn.

Traveler tells the story of three college roommates who decide to take one last road trip before beginning lives of respectability. They plan to follow the plot of Kerouac’s On the Road as closely as possible, right down to pulling a prank in a New York City art museum. Jay (Matthew Bomer) and Tyler (Logan Marshall Green) dart on ahead on roller blades, racing through the museum on a stupid bet (and, it must be said, for the action sequence that kicks off the episode, this one is sluggishly paced, especially when compared to later sequences). Their friend Will Traveler (Aaron Stanford) stays behind to videotape their shenanigans, but when Jay and Tyler exit the museum, a phone call to Will ends cryptically as he apologizes to them. Then the museum explodes, and Jay and Tyler are blamed for the explosion.

From there, the show turns into a weird hybrid of 24 and The Fugitive. It stretches plausibility almost too often for this sort of escapist entertainment (the boys never even bother to change clothes, and they take breaks from their race to visit a girlfriend or have a long discussion about how they’re fundamentally different from each other), but it’s mostly a four-barreled race forward as the boys try to stay one step ahead of the FBI (led by the excellent Viola Davis and Steven Culp) and rely on Tyler’s father (William Sadler) for which steps to take next. The duo delve into the mystery of Will Traveler, believing that he was a central figure in this strange conspiracy, and discover that they have no photos of him and that they know surprisingly little about him.
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