Thursday, January 24, 2008

Without A Trace – of Excitement?

Photo: CBS

I’ve been watching Without A Trace since the show first started, and generally I find it entertaining. At the start of this current season, it was moved back to its original Thursday time slot. I don’t think it’s drawing the huge numbers of viewers that it used to get, but if I recall correctly, it wins the ratings contest for its time period.

While I continue to watch the show, there is something very routine about it. Without A Trace is a show that still has the original core cast, only adding Roslyn Sanchez sometime in season 4. The cast is solid and has great chemistry. Anthony LaPaglia is the gruff, stoic, cranky Jack Malone, a role that he seems to fit almost too easily. Then there’s Marianne Jean-Baptiste, playing the gruff, stoic, cranky Agent Vivian Johnson; she's sometimes the only person who actually seems to know what she’s doing in her job. The cast is filled out with eye candy Agents Danny Taylor (Enrique Murciano), Martin Fitzgerald (Eric Close), Samantha “Sam” Spade (Poppy Montgomery), and Elena Delgado (Roselyn Sanchez).

Without a Trace is probably the most formulaic crime show on television. In the first segment of the show, someone goes missing. The FBI gets involved, questioning many people (these segments must include flashbacks) who either lie or withhold information, and at the end, the missing person is found, sometime dead, sometimes alive. The routine gets a little dull. But, there have been times when the series threw in a few personal story lines to mix things up, like Jack’s relationship with his father Frank (played by Martin Landau), Jack’s messy divorce and child custody problem, Jack’s relationship with Anne Cassidy (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). Jack’s problems were very depressing and frankly they really dragged down the show. (Or, maybe it's just Jack who's depressing?)

Occasionally, the rest of the cast gets some attention with a story line of their own, which seemingly gets dropped quickly. The show seems to be stepping away from too many personal issues this season, and the series seems to be a little better for it with tighter stories. What is odd is that as this is such a great cast that have been with the show for so long, I think viewers really want to know the characters a little better. But, like the Law & Order series, too much personal information can start to detract from the story at hand, which is maybe why it doesn’t seem to work for Without a Trace.

While I really do like this show, I believe that it needs an infusion of some new energy or new slant to their formula to bring some excitement. I am not sure if they need a new regular cast member, or a compelling, recurring story line. Agent Johnson is involved in a on-going story line, but the coverage of the story seems fragmented or spotty, and I am starting to lose interest. The show needs something; I feel like I am watching the cast go through the motions.

With the writers strike having so many TV shows up in the air, I would hope that when they return to work, they would write some new ideas to give a jolt to Without a Trace. I don’t want to start thinking of the show as “Without A Trace of Excitement.”

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