ABC, Wednesdays at 10 pm & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n the debut of ABC's much ballyhooed Traveler, a museum blows up and two grad students are framed for it. They go on the run, get chased by the FBI, get caught, escape, get caught again and escape a second time, all while the show tries to fill you in on two years of main character backstory and 20 years-worth of scandal and suicide at the show's periphery.
Recent graduates from some Ivy League school or other, roommates Will Traveler (chemical engineering), Jay Burchell (law) and Tyler Fog (venture capitalism?), plan a cross-country trek that ends at square one, with Traveler blowing up an art museum before the trip ever gets underway. Problem is, Will Traveler doesn't seem to have ever existed, leaving Burchell and Fog as the FBI's only suspects. It makes for a dizzying and intensely unsatisfying hour. The second hour is less dizzying and more satisfying.
By the end of the first hour, we know Fog's dad is a convicted Iran Contra smuggler and Burchell's dad killed himself after a friendly-fire engagement. By the end of the second, we know one of the people trying to stop the FBI from finding Burchell and Fog is a bigwig at the Department of Homeland Security. Could the counter-terrorists be the terrorist-terrorists?
I smell tangy social commentary, hot off the headlines and smothered in a healthy dollop of grim reality. Burchell wants to turn himself in at one point. Fog disabuses him of this: "If we go in now, they'll ship us straight to Guantanamo Bay." Now we're cooking with paranoia.
From enemy combatants to Ollie North, Traveler is setting itself up to be the first dramatic network TV examination of the Reagan and Bush eras. Good time to do it, with Georgie's approval ratings in the toilet. Unfortunately, cramming as many conspiratorial hooks into a series pilot as possible without offering any substantive bait (like characters we care about) has all but doomed this franchise to similarly low ratings. The horrid haircut of Logan Marshall-Green (who plays Fog) and his vacant, inhuman eyes won't draw anyone in.
If it's remembered at all, Traveler will be praised as the crappy little show that had the chutzpah to poke blindly into the darker corners of the war on terror, paving the way for better television to shed actual light.
The conceit: Aardman Studios (Wallace & amp; Gromit) takes the real words of real stupid Americans and puts them in the mouths of animated pigs and bears. A thin concept? Not compared to Flushed Away. (CBS, Mondays, 8 pm)
America's Got Talent
Lighthearted, daffy and utterly pointless, the show -- stupid human tricks with a million dollar prize -- perhaps sensing its paucity of premise, worried about drawing fans back for Year Two, went out and found a reason for people to watch. Trash king Jerry Springer replaces Regis "Get-Me-My-Geritol" Philbin as host and cancer-survivor-extraordinaire Sharon Osborne becomes the new judge, replacing boring-as-hell Brandy. (NBC, Tuesdays, 9 pm)
Survivor with one major difference: rather than the winner getting the money at the end, it gets meted out weekly. After voting for a captain based on merit, the crew learned said captain would get 50 percent of each week's spoils, while his chosen mates split 25 percent and select others get a pittance. Depending on how shrewdly the captain uses this money, he can either wrangle the crew or spark mutiny. Good idea. (CBS, Thursdays, 8 pm)