Ah, May. It's the busiest time of the year, between season finales of your favorite series, the network upfronts, LA screenings, and the massive culling of series chaff.
Yet this year, networks are launching several new series at the end of the month. Some will be little more than warm weather burnoff, while others make me salivate (CBS' Pirate Master, for example). Then there are the ones that I'm curious enough about to want to watch more than a single episode. ABC's new series Traveler definitely falls in the latter camp. (Originally intended to air last fall, ABC cut back the action series' episodic order from 13 episodes to 8 and pushed the launch to summer.) Traveler isn't perfect but it is intriguing, offering a respite from mindless reality shows, drama repeats, and whatever the hell VH-1 is airing.
For those of you not up to speed, here's the skinny. Three best friends, newly freed from the shackles of grad school, girlfriends, and student housing, decide to have one last hurrah before joining the productive members of society in the so-called Real World and organize a road trip. Jay Burchell (Tru Calling's Matthew Bomer) is a future lawyer whose task is to try to keep the group from getting arrested. Tyler Fog (The O.C.'s Logan Marshall-Green, nearly unrecognizable with a foppish, blond haircut) is the son of a shady multi-billionaire who was convicted for conspiracy during the Iran-Contra affair. And then there's Will Traveler (X-Men 2's Aaron Stanford), the enigmatic final member of their impossibly good-looking troika who seems to be the mastermind behind their road trip. As a prank, he urges Tyler and Jay to rollerblade down the stairs of the Drexler Museum (filling in here for the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art) as he videotapes their harmless fun. During their high-speed exit from the building, the fire alarms are pulled and everyone is forced to exit the building. Once outside, Tyler and Jay call Will, who apologizes ... and promptly detonates a bomb inside the museum.
Jay and Tyler are caught on CCTV footage that instantly appears on the news (just how did the footage get leaked that quickly?) and return to their hotel to discover that Will's stuff is gone, their car is gone, and they are wanted by the FBI in connection with the blast. Hot on their tails are Agent Fred Chambers (Desperate Housewives' Steven Culp) and Agent Jan Marlow (Viola Davis) ... and some other people who seem to want the friends silenced permanently. As Jay and Tyler try to make their way out of Manhattan, they are drawn deeper and deeper into a vast web of conspiracy that may involve everyone they know. Their only choice is to discover the true identity of Will Traveler (who seems to have never existed) and prove their innocence.
Sounds fun, no? It is, to some extent. Much of the action requires a willing suspension of disbelief, as I do find it somewhat improbable that in a vigilant, post-9/11 Manhattan no one would notice the two punks currently on TV everywhere who may have blown up the Presidential Art Collection at a beloved museum. And who have made zero effort to disguise themselves (not even a baseball cap, until the very end) or blend in (well, Jay does pop the collar on his denim jacket). Additionally, we're led to believe that Will Traveler may have been planning this bombing (or been involved in the planning) from before the threesome even met; a "coincidence" leads all three Cubs fans to end up in the same student housing on the first day of grad school and they quickly become firm friends.
Matthew Bomer is largely sympathetic as Jay Burchell, haunted by the scandal-laden death of his soldier father, while Logan Marshall-Green seems a little too washed out in this role. (He's normally much more charismatic and memorable as a bad boy rather than a rich boy with a Black Card.) Still, it's Aaron Stanford's Will Traveler who adds enough mystery and suspense to keep this thing kicking.
There's something big going on here, which involves expert timing, not to mention a large bankroll; it also involves Tyler's dad, Carlton Fog (William Sadler, pitch-perfect as always), and a bribe-accepting hotel bellhop who initially seems to be channeling the spirit of Bagger Vance. Someone got very rich from the blast, and someone has pinned this on these two playboys for a reason.
It's a fun ride, one filled with dozens of intriguing concepts and questions and conspiracy theories, but the smartest thing ABC may have done with the series is to postpone it to summer, in an effort to remove the slick Traveler from the glut of failed serialized dramas that ABC tried out and dumped earlier this season (ahem, The Nine, Day Break, Six Degrees). Even if much of what happens tests your belief, I do think it's a perfect summer show, a tasty trifle of suspense and action that requires a lot less brainpower than, say, the most recent episode of Lost.
Which isn't a bad thing. I'll be tuning in this summer to see just who Will Traveler really was and what this whole conspiracy is really about. And if, for some reason, Traveler doesn't make it to its eight-episode climax, it still will have been more entertaining and suspenseful than the entire current season of 24.
Traveler gets a sneak peek May 10th at 10 pm, before officially launching May 30th on ABC.
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Jace is an LA-based television development and acquisitions junior exec who watches way too much television for his own good and would love a TiVo for every room in the house. (He’s halfway there.) His blog, Televisionary, can be found at televisionary.blogspot.com.