Without a Trace Review
In the beginning there was CSI, the brainchild of Danny Cannon and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Crime Scene Investigation has become a world phenomenon. Concentrating on forensic science to catch the suspect, the show has a distinct feel to it; occasionally drifting into schmaltz, mostly in the first season, there is no denying the drama obtained by utilising a 'real life / actual science' approach to the 'who dunnit' scripts. The success of CSI paved the way for other forensic series', the two CSI spin off shows notwithstanding, Coldcase and Without A Trace, once again produced by the ever present Bruckheimer. Capitalising on the successful close nit group of agents set up in its forerunner, Without a Trace vacates the Sun drenched strip of Las Vegas for the snow filled streets of New York, and replaces the crime lab with the FBI.
Jack Malone (Anthony LaPaglia) is the head of a small FBI unit that concentrates on finding missing persons. His team consists of Viv Johnson, (Marianne Jean-Babtiste) mature, level headed and sometimes peace keeper of the group; Samantha Spade (Poppy Montgomery), Danny Taylor (Enrique Murciano); and finally Martin Fitzgerald (Eric Close), the newest member of the team. Using a combination of eye witness accounts, interrogation, psychology and forensic science, the team try to track down missing persons within a forty eight hour time period, since statistics show that after that time the victim is invariably deceased. The forty eight time period is a terrific idea as gives the show an energy and a pace. As the unit discovers more information about their victim, they (and we) learn about that person's habits. This constant stream of information, via a whiteboard, coupled with the reminder of the time line really places the audience in the feel of the show and you can't wait to discover the whereabouts of the target.
The group's dynamic is sometimes a volatile one and this season picks up directly after the season two finale. Jack's wife takes their kids to Chicago and wants a divorce, Sam and Martin begin a relationship and (try to) hide it from their work colleagues. Poor Viv comes down with a hereditary heart condition and Danny has to contend with his convict brother. In fact over the twenty episodes each character is (again) given a decent amount of background story, in a bold move their characters and their problems start to become the main focus of the show putting the missing persons to the back burner. I think it works, it even takes time out to explore Jacks personal problems with no missing person at all, in two episodes and shows the confidence the show has in its audience.
Of course, much like the CSI's, Jack and his unit are pretty infallible, nearly always managing to find their victim within the forty four minute run time, though, building on the first two seasons, it is not always a happy ending. Some of the stories themselves are very dark, and some down right nasty dealing with such subjects as rape and child abuse. Such darkness reflects real life and gives the show an edge as you never know if the team will succeed. One pet peeve I have about syndicated shows is story arcing; why some shows do and some don't is a mystery. Shows like Buffy and Alias were quite happy to encompass single stories into one overall season arc, yet crime shows tend to steer clear of such tactics. Crime is rarely solved so quickly in real life, and I would like to see more unsolved episodes and then revisit them, within a rolling arc. But that's just me. Thankfully Without A Trace has addressed this issue, again building on the set up previously established, old cases crop up, characters develop, not only within individual seasons but throughout the series run.
As you can probably tell, I really enjoy this show. It has out shone its peers by continuing to develop and never afraid to show things going badly; it is a powerful show and one that demands respect.