Admittedly, it has been about 9 months since I first sat down to watch the pilot for ‘Traveler,’ ABC’s new serial drama which debuts tonight following Grey’s Anatomy. During that time, I think that the industry has become predisposed to believe that the show cannot possibly be a success, which is really unfair to this particular program. Sure, Kidnapped and Vanished both failed while covering similar ground, and Jericho went from modest hit to moderate failure, but I think that it’s unfair to consider this too highly. Still, in the end the show faces a difficult road with both viewers and critics. However, we need to give ‘Traveler’ a fair shot…and I think it deserves it.
But first, a brief word of warning: there is a moment in this episode which surprised me quite a lot, considering that I had not heard a word about the show when watching its pilot. However, thanks to media coverage, and commercials, and all of this, you basically will know about it before it happens, which sucks. I talk about it at the very end of the part of the review which appears on to front page (It’s a great cut point, I couldn’t resist), so if you want to stay completely surprised stop reading and just watch the show at 10pm tonight. If you’re unconvinced and want more info, do continue on.
‘Traveler’ tells the story of three college students who were housed together in a fancy house while attending Yale Law School: Jay, Tyler and the semi-mysterious Wil Traveler (Aaron Stanford). Why mysterious? Well, through flashbacks, we see that he entered the house as a stranger, but yet made a direct connection to both of his roommates through convenient enjoyment of the Chicago Cubs…oh, and at the end of the first act he blows himself up.
Yes, technically, that’s a spoiler, but it’s really just the final part of the prologue that sets up the serial mystery to follow. When a prank goes bad, and said explosion occurs, it creates the set of questions that drive the series forward: why did he do it? Who is he? Who is really behind it all? The pilot is light on answers to these questions, and continues to throw in new little mysteries surrounding these characters as they do their best to escape from the clutches of the FBI (Led by Steven Culp, late of Desperate Housewives).
And, in the end, this setup works quite well in creating a strong hour of television. My feelings on the pilot haven’t really changed in ten months time, to be honest; it’s an interesting thriller setup which has all of the elements you would expect. The two leads, Jay (Matthew Bomer) and Tyler (Logan Marshall-Green, late of The O.C. and 24), each bring to the table something to conflict them: Jay has his long-term girlfriend, and Tyler is struggling with an overbearing uber-rich father. The series doesn’t really venture far into these areas, but it at least gives these people some semblance of character.
If I had to compare it to another series, I think that I would compare it to Prison Break, although I think it is heading in a different direction. What Prison Break established in its pilot was the effect of a single action, and how that sent Michael down a road to his future. Here, we see something similar, but it is a much less certain road. They really have an entirely open storyline sitting here, which is why I have to remain somewhat pessimistic. There’s some talk of government conspiracy, and this is what has dragged down Prison Break and has threatened other serials as well. I think Traveler could remain a character-driven drama and succeed much better, but it seems that this will not be the case.
However, ‘Traveler’ has a tough road ahead of it. While it has a Grey’s Anatomy lead-in for this special airing, the show will be airing on Wednesdays at 10pm on a regular basis starting on May 30th. That’s a long break, and people might not be willing to stick around for that long. Plus, I question whether the Grey’s Anatomy audience is all that interested in serial drama. They were barely tuning in for October Road or Men in Trees or Six Degrees, with no more than 60% retention in key demos, so I doubt that a show even less suited for their core audience (There is little 20-something romance or soapy Alaskan hijinx or…annoying urban coincidences to be found here). And, while part of me wants to believe that people might take to the show, somehow I think they’re looking for lighter fare.
In the end, it will be up to viewers. There are eight episodes on the shelf for ABC that will air throughout June and July, and I guess we’ll see how successful summer programming can be for ABC. ‘Traveler’ previews at 10pm EST after Grey’s Anatomy tonight on ABC, and the pilot airs again on CTV and ABC on May 30th.