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'Traveler,' worth joining in hot pursuit

ABC men-on-the-run conspiracy drama jumps

(c) Media Life Magazine

May 10, 2007

By Andrew Lyons

The opening of "Traveler" is a grabber. Two young men run desperately through the streets of Manhattan. They seem like perfectly reputable guys, in their road trip attire and get-a-job haircuts. But their eyes are full of fear. We don't know why.

We find out soon enough.

The two, recent grad school alums and close friends, are on the run, suspects in a museum explosion. And their other friend is missing, possibly dead, inside the museum.

That "Traveler," which premieres tonight at 10 on ABC, wastes no time with long-winded character introductions or plot setups is smart.

This season has produced so many failed mystery/conspiracy serials ("Kidnapped," "Vanished," "Daybreak," "Drive"), some actually pretty good. So it's refreshing to find a show that holds back on the details, aiming to first hook viewers by the pure action.

The impressive thing about "Traveler" is that still mostly works after it pauses for the inevitable backstory of just how it was that our two young men have gotten themselves into such a fix. It works because of deft pacing, the believability of the characters, both played by relative unknowns, and the central mystery of their story, which turns out to be more personal than political.

Even as the show introduces the standard conspiracy elements, there's that hook. Did their friend die as a victim in the explosion or did he cause it? Just what was the real nature of their relationship, true friendship or something far more sinister, involving personal, unspoken betrayal?

Neither man wants to acknowledge that possibility but it's the puzzle that keeps "Traveler" moving.

The backstory: After finishing grad school, the three friends and roommates decide to take a trip across the country before settling down in their professions.

Jay (Matthew Bomer, "Tru Calling") is a working-class striver just out of law school. Tyler (Logan Marshall-Green, "The O.C")is a business school grad and son of the wealthy chairman of an insurance company (William Sadler, "Die Hard 2"). We learn that Will Traveler (Aaron Stanford, "X2") has just completed an advanced degree in engineering but we learn nothing about his background. Will is the one who disappears in the museum.

In flashbacks, Jay tries to piece together the events leading up to the explosion. In a cell phone conversation just before, Will asks if they're safely out of the museum. He then apologizes.

Jay and Tyler have become suspects because of a prank they pulled in the museum just before the explosion, one Will suggested. Thus, in a sort of post-millennial "North By Northwest," the guys have to go on the lam, not certain where they are running to, or why, or who is responsible for their predicament.

"Traveler" writers were clever in casting relative unknowns as the leads. They come off as more vulnerable and lost than more familiar faces might.

As yet, neither Bomer nor Marshall-Green have much to do in terms of carrying scenes. But they do a good job of establishing a mood of creeping fear, a growing sense that nothing they once trusted is safe anymore.

Stanford, who played the bad-seed mutant Pyro in the "X-Men" films, brings a similar shadowy sensibility to Will, a hint that below that bland exterior lurks something quite dark.

The young actors lean on several veteran character actors for the heavy lifting. Sadler is always solid and Steven Culp ("Thirteen Days") and Viola Davis ("Solaris") crackle as FBI agents hunting down the pair.

"Traveler" is not without flaws. When Jay reconnects with his girlfriend, the pace slows considerably. And one supporting character keeps showing up at just the wrong time, undermining the otherwise well-honed mood.

But they don't diminish "Traveler" as a drama about friends in crisis and the boundaries of loyalty and betrayal among them. As long as the focus stays there, the story grippingly hums along.

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