Watching the pilot of "Traveler," ABC's serial thriller that debuts tonight, I had the sense that we'd seen this kind of show before. It's a serial in the vein of "Day Break" or "Kidnapped" — and, well, we know what happened to them. So maybe it's best for "Traveler" that it never made it to the air until now. Summer shows have a lower threshold for ratings success, and maybe "Traveler" will be that rare serial that actually gets to tie up all its plot points before getting yanked off the air.
"Traveler" tells the story of three friends — Jay, Tyler and the unfortunately named Will Traveler — who set off on a post-grad school road trip. In New York, they decide to pull a prank in an art museum by rollerblading down the stairs; Will stays behind to film the other two. They're supposed to meet up outside, but then Jay gets a call from Will, who says "I'm sorry I had to do this." Then the museum blows up, and the next thing they know, Jay and Tyler have their faces plastered on television as suspected terrorists — and Will is gone.
The story goes in two different directions from there: one following Jay and Tyler as they decide whether to turn themselves in or run from the FBI, one piecing together their memories of Will as they try to figure out why he'd frame them. For more on the show, and to watch the first 10 minutes,
The story of Jay and Tyler fleeing the law provides much of the action in the pilot episode. There's something sad and almost sweet about Jay's earnest attempts to tell the FBI what happened in the museum, somehow thinking he'd be believed. And there are some interesting twists toward the end of the episode, with the introduction of mysterious characters whose motives for helping Jay and Tyler are unclear.
But I'm more interested in the question Jay and Tyler ask themselves: Who is Will Traveler? In a series of flashbacks, we see little quirks of Will's personality that weren't strange at the time but now seem awfully suspicious. Did he set up his friends willingly? Did someone make him do it? What other secrets was he keeping?
The pilot script is clunky, and the scenes between Jay, Tyler and Will suffer the most; in their attempt to showcase how the guys' friendship, the writers overshot and made the dialogue almost romantic ("I didn't think you'd come back for me!"). I hope that changes as the writers become more comfortable with the characters. Only eight episodes of "Traveler" have been produced, which suggests that ABC doesn't have much faith in the show. But I'm curious enough to come back for more when "Traveler" starts its regular run May 30; let me know if you're coming along.
Photos copyright 2007 ABC, Inc.