I hadn’t watched the Traveler pilot since last summer when I sat down last week to catch up on what I’d missed thus far. By all accounts (Those being that of my parents, who had been watching the series weekly), the series appeared to be on track for decent drama, so I figured that catching up might not be a bad idea. In the end, I’m quite glad I did: Traveler has developed into a succinct, well-made serial drama that should be garnering better ratings than its current averages. The series has managed to pull together its disparate parts into something cohesive and strong, and after last week’s “cliffhanger” ending it is clear that this story is only beginning. And, well, I think people might want to tune in for the end. Traveler has done a number of things right, and they’ve all contributed to its serial success.
Consistency of Character
Jay is the lawyer, always thinking of lawyer-like things. Tyler is the trust fund kid with parental issues, and has never wavered from this fact with his paranoid and impulsive behaviour. The FBI agents are even getting their own characters, but they’re simple and not complex for the sake of being complex. The characters are not full of depth, but for what this series is trying to put together there is just the right level of consistency for the series to work. While Jay’s girlfriend has yet to become much more than a cliché, at least they’re not attempting to pass her off as anything more.
Traveler is perhaps the most well-paced serial drama that TV has seen over the past few years, likely benefiting from its short 8-episode run. While it’s almost impossible for all of these things to happen in just three days, the show has featured strong action sequences and intriguing developments in pretty well every episode. While there haven’t been too many answers, things are becoming progressively clearer and building constantly. If we’re not going to get answers, a lack of filler is currently working in the show’s advantage.
One of 24’s problems in past seasons is balancing their different plots: the perpetrators, the CTU agents, etc. Traveler has done a great job of following both Jay/Tyler and the FBI agents searching after them. There is consistently changing drama within the on the run fugitives, as well as the FBI investigating the murder. The perspectives of the different detectives are divided, but no so much that this drama takes away from the rest of it. Balance this out with some flashbacks, and you have a drama that offers just the right amount for each storyline to progress naturally.
These three qualities are the most important the drama has achieved in its first three episodes, and the fourth was similarly strong. Comparing the series to NBC’s Kidnapped, which failed to ignite last season, the series tried to create strong, well-rounded characters that could populate this universe. This was a bold idea, and can be possible, but for a serial drama Traveler has the right approach. Producers aren’t trying to create Jack Bauer-deep characters here, and it definitely makes the right easier to follow. If they’re trying to create a serial thrill ride, character might have to take a back seat on occasion.
In saying this, let’s make it clear that this show will never be able to master what 24 did in its first season: thrill-ride drama, political intrigue, and incredibly deep characters. However, I think it is currently achieving what Prison Break never could: creating a fast-moving, exciting rollercoaster that doesn’t care about things like contrivances and other issues but doesn’t overcomplicate itself. While it might not make for a season of drama worthy of Emmy consideration, I think it’s creating the perfect summer television.
A boat explodes mid-episode? Further internal-FBI drama? Further investigation into Will’s past? The episode just never slowed down, and never stopped to allow us to think about how convenient it is that they keep happening to run into these sets of clues. Personally, I don’t think it’s really a detriment to the show at this stage: until it goes so far as to totally outrageous storylines, I think I’m along for the ride. The episode’s conclusion was one rife with questions: who has abducted Traveler, who does the black man work for, and how could Traveler have thought he was fighting for America (Ala Walt Cummings in 24 Season Five)?
With the season halfway over, the focus shifts to seeing how they wrap up these underlying questions: what does Homeland Security have to do with this? Who is the black man tailing our heroes? And how does this all fit together in the end? In four weeks, we might well find out. And…I’m kind of excited about it.