Preview: Traveler

Traveler

In the US: ABC, but held as a mid-season replacement

In the UK: Not yet picked up

A while ago, I came up with a rubbish game called Through the D Hole. The aim of the game was to work out exactly who the target audience of a TV programme is using as few clues as possible – just the title if you can manage it.

The reason it’s (mostly) rubbish is because of shows like Traveler. You’ll never get what Traveler is about, just from its title.

Sci-fi show about a travelling alien? No.

Adventure/travel show? No.

You see, Traveler is the name of a man. Worse than that for our game, that’s not his real name: he’s made it up to fool a couple of his grad school friends before he frames them for a particularly heinous crime. Part 24, part Prison Break, but mostly Nowhere Man, Traveler is actually one of the better shows coming our way (hopefully).

The plot

A trio of Yale grad students make their way to New York to celebrate the end of their courses and their final days in academia. One’s off to become a lawyer, the other – the son of one of the richest men in America – is off to the world of investment.

Will Traveler? He’s more of a mystery.

After a night of partying, it’s prank time. So the trio of pals makes their way over to the Drexler Museum of Art for a little bit of rollerblading. While Traveler tapes them on his omnipresent camcorder, lawyer-to-be and investor-to-be zoom through the museum and into the outside world.

They wait, then get a call. It’s Traveler. “I’m sorry I had to do this,” he says, then one of the wings of the museum explodes.

It’s not long before TV screens around the country are showing pictures of our heroes fleeing the museum (coincidentally, the one piece of security footage that survived) and the unlucky duo are soon being hunted by the FBI. There’s help from investor-to-be’s dad, who also suffered a mild bit of government persecution during the 90s and so has dummy bank accounts and other aids for runaways on hand.

Soon, it becomes clear that Traveler has set them up. There’s no record of him at Yale. There’s not a single photo of him from their two-year friendship that doesn’t have him covering his face or turning away from the camera. And although his body is found, charred and unrecognisable, at the gallery, the suspicion is that Traveler is still alive and has had them in his sights since before they ever met.

But why did he blow up the museum? Why did he involve these two men? And why is the servile doorman from their hotel suddenly breaking them out of custody and murdering FBI agents? His advice – “Trust only each other” – seems like the best advice they’re ever going to get…

The verdict

There’s good and there’s bad with Traveler. Let’s start with the good.

It’s tense. There’s good direction by stalwart David Nutter. The FBI are on the case pretty quickly and aren’t shown to be complete imbeciles. Steven Culp (The West Wing, Enterprise, Desperate Housewives, JAG: you should recognise him, basically) gives a slightly hammy but still persuasive performance as the lead agent. Aaron Stanford (X-Men 2 and 3) is suitably suspicious as the eponymous Traveler, and William Sadler (The Shawshank Redemption, Roswell, Wonder Falls) is as excellent as always.

The central hook – how well do you know your best friend really? – is also pretty good, even if the plot and story is pretty unrealistic. But just like The Prisoner, Nowhere Man, The One Game, The X-Files and even The Game, which were equally unrealistic, the plot is more of a metaphor than an actual analysis of what it would be like to be in such a situation.

Here, the idea that They are all out to get us and They are everywhere is both powerful and a way of looking at concerns about individual liberty when TV and technology have made it almost impossible to escape the law, even when you’re unjustly accused.

Essentially, we’re talking about a chase nightmare – and it’s hard not to feel tense about one of those – crossed with a conspiracy theory, where no one is who they appear to be. All good, basically.

Now for the bad.

  • Choosing a bunch of rich Yale grad students for heroes is probably a mistake if you’re looking to create a couple of Everymans. I felt visceral hatred for them for most of the pilot.
  • The heroes aren’t especially well cast: at times, their attempts at inner turmoil seem a little more like they’re trying to come up with their My Little Pony Christmas wish list. Guys: you’re being chased for an act of terrorism by every law enforcement agency in New York, which is pretty highly policed by people who aren’t exactly going to be under-motivated to catch terrorists. You should be wetting your pants something chronic, not just getting a little bit shouty.
  • The lawyer-to-be’s girlfriend is woefully bad (and is apparently already being recast).
  • Aaron Stanford probably isn’t going to be in the series as much, since the show’s pretty much over as soon as they find him.
  • The Metropolitan Library is one of the most distinctive buildings in New York. You can CGI “Drexler Museum of Art” on it if you want, but it’s still going to be the Metropolitan Library.

All in all, though, pretty promising, albeit a little stupid. Here’s the promo trailer: