Review: ABC's 'Traveler' starts off with a bang
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Eric Liebowitz, ABC
A seemingly innocent prank of Rollerblading through a museum turns deadly for friends Tyler, played by Logan Marshall-Green, and Jay, played by Matthew Bomer in "Traveler," premiering tonight on ABC.
Now we come to the curious case of ABC's "Traveler" (10 tonight). The network announced the drama as a midseason replacement series a full year ago this month, but since then the show has languished. The network didn't bother to present "Traveler" stars and producers to critics at the midseason TV critics press tour in January. Never a good sign.
Yet tonight's pilot, written by series creator David DiGilio and directed by David Nutter (who also helmed the pilots for "Smallville," "Supernatural" and "Jack & Bobby"), begins as an action-packed adrenaline rush.
Grad-school buddies plan one last juvenile lark in a New York City museum before setting off together on a cross-country road trip. Will Traveler (Aaron Stanford) videotapes friends Jay (Matthew Bomer, a Carnegie Mellon University grad) and Tyler (Logan Marshall-Green) as they in-line skate through the museum. (Parents may groan at the notion of their children getting bad ideas watching these guys skate down stairs and across slick marble floors, but it does make for some cool visual flourishes.)
The fun ends when alarms blare, visitors rush out of the museum and security guards pursue Jay and Tyler. After they skate out of the museum, Jay's phone rings. Will asks if they made it out of the museum, and when Jay assents, Will adds, "I'm sorry I had to do this." Then the building explodes.
From here, the FBI labels Jay and Tyler suspects. There's some murky back story about the government investigating Tyler's wealthy father; Jay's dad committed suicide after being court-martialed for a friendly-fire incident in Iraq, but he's not bitter.
"My father died because someone in the government betrayed him. That didn't make me hate my government, that made me want to fix it," Jay says. And he means it, making him the widest-eyed, most optimistic character on TV all season.
After the bomb blast, ABC's apparent lack of faith in "Traveler" becomes more understandable. The show is a serial with a dark theme, exactly like the many shows that flopped in the fall ("The Nine," "Vanished," "Kidnapped"). It's another excellent premise that might work well as a one-shot movie but feels like it may be grasping in its attempts to make it as an ongoing series.
On top of that, there's a labyrinth-like conspiracy grafted onto a game of cat-and-mouse as Jay and Tyler attempt to elude capture while trying to figure out why Will detonated that bomb.
Viewers also have to keep in mind that network executives have seen future episodes and it's possible the quality of the series tanks in subsequent installments, which won't be seen until the show moves into its regular time period -- 10 p.m. Wednesday -- on May 30.
Adding fuel to the fire of the declining quality theory: When asked, ABC refused to send future episodes for review.