The pilot episode of Traveler (sneak preview tonight on ABC, 10 PM, EDT) hits the ground running — literally. Sirens blaring in the streets of New York, we see two young men running desperately, from what we don’t know. They retreat to a hotel room, where the TV newscast is giving updates about a terrorist attack, listing them as the wanted suspects. They look at each other in disbelief. “We didn’t do anything wrong!” The camera moves in for an extreme close-up of a book on the table — Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
Starting a story in the middle of the action is rarely a bad idea. It may be a cheap shot, but it immediately engages the audience with a sense of “what did I just walk in on?” It’s called misdirection, and the creative team who helm this series are no strangers to the concept. Directed by David Nutter, best known for his work on The X-Files and Without a Trace, this pilot episode is paced more like a feature film than a TV episode. The script by David DiGilio (Eight Below) is taut as a kettle drum, tantalizing the viewer with well-placed, but murky clues in all the key moments, flashing back and forward in the action that would defy logic were it not for his deft scripting.
It all begins with a simple prank. Three grad-school buddies embark on what is supposed to be a cross-country last hurrah road trip before entering into their workaday futures. But when one of the trio, Will Traveler, convinces Jay Burchell and Tyler Fog to rollerblade through an iconic art museum in New York City, the first leg of the road trip takes a very twisted turn. An explosion rocks the museum, and Jay and Tyler suddenly find themselves prime suspects in an act of domestic terrorism. Worse, they gradually realize that their friend Will Traveler set them up to cover up his own involvement in the bombing.
Traveler takes the premise and runs with it. In so doing, it calls into question the nature of loyalty, patriotism and love, and wraps it up in the fabric of well-placed paranoia. If the pilot is any indication, this looks to be a series fraught with twists and turns to rival 24 or Lost in its heyday. We already know more than the protagonists in that we see that nothing is as it seems. It offers enough tantalizing hints to keep us going through the summer. If it can maintain the pace it set running out of the gate, it may very well end up being a must-see come fall.
After tonight’s sneak preview, Traveler begins its weekly run May 30. I suggest you watch tonight’s head start. You’ll be the talk of the water cooler.