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After a Museum Is Bombed, the Real Trouble Begins

(c) New York Times

May 10, 2007

By Alessandra Stanley

In television's war on terrorism you're either with us or a wrongly accused pawn set up by a sinister, high-placed conspiracy.

Eric Liebowitz/ABC
From left, Aaron Stanford, Matthew Bomer and Logan Marshall-Green in "Traveler," a new series on ABC.
The heroes of ABC's new series "Traveler" are in the latter camp, and that alone is a welcome break from the recycled superagent heroics of Jack Bauer on "24." That Fox thriller began its sixth season on a high note with a nuclear explosion in Valencia, Calif., but quickly shifted into automatic pilot; the final hours are idling along in dull diversions and secondhand plot twists. It's a chore, and so is the insufferable nobility of the elite antiterrorist force on CBS's "Unit."

"Travelers" appeals to the Everyparanoid. Three good-looking roommates, fresh out of Yale graduate schools, take a Kerouac-inspired cross-country road trip, kicking it off with a roller-skating lark inside a New York City museum. Moments later a huge bomb explodes and destroys almost everything inside, including an exhibition of the American president's private art collection.

Jay Burchell (Matthew Bomer) and Tyler Fog (Logan Marshall-Green) are caught on tape skating to safety and are branded as terrorists, possibly in cahoots with foreign enemies.

They believe that their third friend, Will Traveler (Aaron Stanford), can help establish their innocence, but Will vanishes, and the two others realize they cannot even prove the third man existed.

Jay's initial faith in the fair-mindedness of the federal government is quickly shattered, and they go on the lam, pursued by the F.B.I. and almost every other law enforcement agency in the land. When Jay's girlfriend urges him to surrender, he replies, "If we go in now they will ship us straight to Guantánamo Bay."

The innocent bystander caught up in a complicated web of ill-doing is a familiar conceit, be it "The Count of Monte Cristo," Hitchcock movies like "North by Northwest" or TV series like "The Fugitive" and, most recently, "Prison Break" on Fox.

But especially nowadays big bad government seems to have a special resonance, perhaps collateral psychic damage from the war in Iraq and Abu Ghraib. "The Unknown Terrorist," a new novel by Richard Flanagan, centers on an exotic dancer who, by complete mischance, is labeled as a terrorist.

The same kind of cynicism crops up on all kinds of television shows, even some as featherbrained and farcical as ABC's "Boston Legal." On Tuesday's episode Alan Shore (James Spader) represents a British citizen of Arab origin who was held and tortured at Guantánamo for two years. (He wins the case.)

It's not clear whether the museum bombing in "Traveler" was the work of Muslim terrorists or other unidentified enemies of the state, but the state is definitely a suspect.

Jay and Tyler come from opposite worlds: Jay, the son of a housekeeper, got to Yale on college loans; Tyler grew up in penthouses and went to private schools, but both are sons of men who felt betrayed by their own government. Jay's father was in the military during the first Iraq war and was court-martialed for a friendly-fire incident that took American lives. He believed he was being framed and killed himself.

Tyler is the son of a multibillionaire tycoon named Carlton Fog (William Sadler) who was convicted of conspiracy during the Iran-Contra scandal in President Ronald Reagan's second term. Mr. Fog urges his son to flee. When Tyler says that they have done nothing wrong, his father replies tersely, "That hasn't stopped the authorities" from harming "this family before."

The F.B.I. quickly seizes on the two suspects' personal resentments as a possible motive for the crime, though they do not rule out an Al Qaeda connection. And the agent in charge of the manhunt, Fred Chambers (Steven Culp), has a shifty manner that suggests he has something of his own to hide. Everybody seems to have secrets and to know more about the explosion than the two heroes, who have to solve the crime to escape the punishment.

The first episode of "Traveler" is well made and quite gripping, with lots of chase scenes through hotel corridors and rooftops. But the past season is littered with the unfinished scripts of serialized dramas imitating "Lost," and to some extent "24." The NBC show "Heroes" was a huge success, but other, more adult thrillers like "The Nine," "Kidnapped" and "Day Break" flopped and disappeared.

"Traveler" takes young, handsome protagonists and plunges them into an adult world of terrorism and government deceit. And in these times, that could be a popular combination.


ABC, tonight at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.

David DiGilio, creator and executive producer; Dan Jinks, Bruce Cohen and Charlie Craig, executive producers.

WITH: Matthew Bomer (Jay Burchell), Logan Marshall-Green (Tyler Fog), Aaron Stanford (Will Traveler), Pascale Hutton (Kimberly Doherty), Viola Davis (Jan Marlow), Anthony Ruivivar (Guillermo Borjes), Steven Culp (Fred Chambers), William Sadler (Carlton Fog) and Billy Mayo (Jon Anselmo).

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