The first of two kidnapping dramas that will premiere this season, "Vanished" (9 tonight, Fox), is the weaker effort.
Cast of "Vanished," left to right: John Allen Nelson, Margarita Levieva, John Patrick Amedori, Joanne Kelly, Rebecca Gayheart, Ming-Na and Gale Harold.
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Starring: Wentworth Miller.
NBC's "Kidnapped," debuting Sept. 20, is an edge-of-your-seat thriller reminiscent of "24." "Vanished" is a more pulpy show with a penchant for going off on tangents as it tracks not only the disappearance of a U.S. senator's wife, but media coverage of the case and the discovery of a long-running conspiracy. It's more tedious than exhausting.
Actor Gale Harold, last seen playing an arrogant, smirking gay predator on Showtime's "Queer as Folk," stars in "Vanished" as arrogant, smirking FBI agent Graham Kelton. He's nursing the wounds of a rescue gone bad (as in the "Heist" pilot earlier this year, a child gets blown up) while teaming with agent Len Mei (former Pittsburgher Ming-Na, who has little to do in tonight's premiere) to track down Sara Collins (Joanne Kelly), the wife of Georgia Sen. Jeffrey Collins (John Allen Nelson).
Sara was last seen at an Atlanta charity event -- not that anyone on this show sounds like they live in Georgia; no one has even the hint of a Southern accent -- and ambitious reporter (re: nosy, trouble-making) Judy Nash (Rebecca Gayheart) is soon in pursuit, jumping out of bed with her young cameraman (Robert Hoffman) to get the scoop. She immediately antagonizes Kelton, who tracks down the senator's daughter (Margarita Levieva), whose boyfriend (Chris Egan) may or may not be as sketchy as he first seems.
Throw in the reappearance of the senator's first wife (Penelope Ann Miller), revelations about the missing Sara and the discovery of a corpse from a prominent missing persons case a decade ago and there's a lot to process in the first hour of "Vanished."
But all these disparate threads don't hang together well. "Vanished" is a show that should leave viewers begging for more, but instead engenders more of a shrug because nothing in the pilot is convincing -- not the characters, not the setting, not the performances (can Harold play anything other than confident, obnoxious jerks?).
Perhaps future episodes will give viewers reason to tune in -- otherwise this show's audience is likely to vanish, too.
Freeing the "Prison Break" characters from prison also frees the show from the repetitive cat-and-mouse plots that dragged down the show in its first season.
The prisoners, led by Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) and Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller), are on the run. But now that they're outside of prison, the show's writers have a lot more story options. With the characters better established -- a recap at the start of tonight's episode brings new viewers up to speed -- the writers also show a greater willingness to tell individual stories.
This is all good news for "Prison Break" (8 tonight, Fox), which feels newly invigorated not only by the escape but by the addition of an FBI agent hunting the fugitives. Alexander Mahone (William Fichtner, "Invasion") is a far more worthy adversary for Michael than prison guard Brad Bellick (Wade Williams), who's still after the convicts but seems like a cartoon compared to the Inspector Javert-like Mahone.
"The problem I find with being on a trail is that, by definition, we'll always be behind the prey," Mahone tells Bellick in one early clash.
The season premiere also offers more revelations about the conspiracy that sent Burrows to prison for killing the then-vice president's brother, who is still very much alive, though played by a different actor this season (Jeff Perry takes over the role from John Billingsley). Veronica (Robin Tunney) confronts him tonight and the conspiracy becomes even more unbelievable.
No matter. At this point, the characters are more of a draw than the plots, and the first couple episodes of season two capably move their stories forward.
TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582.
Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.
Jeremy Cowart Wentworth Miller, left, and Dominic Purcell star in "Prison Break."
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