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Good stuff -- but don't get too attached


May 30, 2007

By Glenn Garvin,

Traveler, 10-11 tonight, WPLG-ABC 10

Those who do not remember history are condemned to watch three episodes of a serialized TV drama, then scream in anguish when the show is canceled by TV executives who discovered that its ratings slipped by a hundredth of a point in Tucumcari, N.M.

So it is that I tell you that two entertaining new shows debut tonight, while simultaneously warning you that you'd be a fool to watch either one of them.

"Hidden Palms," The CW's new chronicle of teen meanness in the burbs, is a soapy delight of hard bodies and dirty doings. "Traveler," ABC's white-knuckle tale of college kids framed for a terrorist bombing, manages to push every paranoid button of the post-9/11 era. They're both fine examples of the TV version of popcorn movies, perfect for easy summer viewing.

But they're also both fine examples of the kind of shows that TV programming bosses have been ruthlessly and abruptly canceling for months now: serialized dramas built around a conspiratorial mystery that goes forever unsolved when the show is dumped without warning. "The Nine," "Day Break," "Six Degrees," "Kidnapped" -- the list, unlike the programs, could go on forever. Still, I get paid -- sort of -- to write these reviews. And I can't say I didn't have a good time watching these shows.


If "Hidden Palms" is rooted in the teen dramas of the 1990s, "Traveler" traces its the-world-is-out-to-get-me lineage to "The Fugitive". But it has a political overlay that renders it uniquely contemporary, managing to incorporate both the fear of terrorism and the fear of government overreaction into one seamless package of pure paranoia.

The show starts like an innocent road-trip story, with three grad-school roommates heading off on a cross-country road trip to discover America before joining the corporate world in the fall.

But when two of them take a dare from the third to pull a prank in a New York City museum, they wind up as the main suspects after a massive bomb goes off inside. It doesn't help that each of them has a parent whose public disgrace provides an apparent motive for them to be taking terrorist revenge on America: The dad of wealthy Tyler Fog (Logan Marshall-Green, "24") was a convicted Iran-contra conspirator, while the father of wrong-side-of-the-tracks Jay Burchell (Matthew Bomber, "Tru Calling") committed suicide after being court-martialed for his conduct in the first Gulf War.

As for the third student, the mysterious Will Traveler (Aaron Stanford), he's disappeared -- and his friends soon find virtually everything they know about him is a lie. They can't even prove he exists. "If we go in now," broods Jay, "they'll send us straight to Guantanamo Bay." Don't worry guys; as long as it doesn't happen by the third episode, no one will ever know.

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