"Without A Trace," like "CSI" and "Law & Order," is a formulaic show but it seems to work. Heading into the 6th season, the show is off to a strong start.
In fact, it is a product of the same team responsible for the latter, and one of its working titles was "Law & Order: Missing Persons Unit." Makes you wonder what might have been, especially since, as purists point out, the FBI has no missing persons unit itself.
I can't quibble. Television isn't really known for strict adherence to reality. Good thing for anyone who's a fan of Heroes, for example.
This is a good show. The six main characters are all fully fleshed living people, with varying levels of experiences and skill sets. They learn from each other, and about each other as time goes on.
That said, bit part casting is the true strength of the show. From the waitress with five lines to the creepy mystery man who calls the grieving mother a cab and knows her address, everyone is good.
The twists and turns get doled out slowly, and the technique of flashing back to dramatizations of what would otherwise be straight dialogue exposition makes you really feel like you're part of the investigation.
The premiere also has the usual number of little personal details that enhance your affection for the main characters without dwelling on major trauma from their past, like some shows are tempted to do. (In this episode, Jack's walking to work after having been told by his doctor it's either take some drugs or get some exercise.)
I wasn't initially sold on Roselyn Sanchez's addition to the cast in season 4 (I know, get over it already), but I've grown to value her both as a character and an actress. It's nice to see a network show that gives women an equal footing in terms of their storylines and their development; it's another thing the CSI and Law & Order franchises have in common with it.
The premiere ties back into the season finale, in which the team investigated the kidnapping of a young girl. In this one, they are still trying to catch the kidnappers who keep their victims in cages - sexual abuse is implied, but the implications make the situation far more horrifying than any explicit play-by-play of what happened.
There's a great restraint in these stories, in the way that the audience is allowed to understand what happened to the missing person or persons through dramatized personal testimony and through carefully shot visuals.
The crime scenes are allowed to speak for themselves.
In the premiere for example, we see the team find a baby monitor hidden in a basement. We only later understand its significance when the creepy guy who hailed the cab is revealed as a paparazzi who broke in and used it to spy on the family.
The stories in "Without a Trace" run on emotions, and on conflict. It's exciting stuff, well filmed, well written, well acted. I've been impressed since the beginning at the ability of this show to constantly keep things fresh without deviating too far from the formula.
Instead, the blending of the lives of those affected by missing loved ones personally and the lives of those searching for them remains strangely compelling.
It's a show I don't always seek out, but will watch when it's on, and one I always enjoy.
The premiere is another cliffhanger, bringing us back to the kidnapped girls story with a horrific image of cell where young children have obviously been kept and systematically tortured.
I guess I'll be making it a point to tune in next week after all.