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TV Reviews: CBS's 'Without a Trace' adds to TV crime scene

Thursday, September 26, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Another day, another procedural crime drama, as CBS rolls out "Without a Trace," a series designed to better hold the "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" audience and do battle with NBC's tired "ER."

 
 
"Without a Trace"

WHEN: 10 tonight on CBS.

STARRING: Anthony LaPaglia.

   
 

"Without a Trace" (10 tonight, CBS), from "CSI" executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer, isn't the first series to deal exclusively with the cases of missing persons. ABC tried with the appropriately titled "Missing Persons" in 1993. Daniel J. Travanti and "CSI" regular Jorja Fox starred in that decent but short-lived series.

"Without a Trace" is a slickly shot, competent series with a talented ensemble cast. It's not revolutionary or groundbreaking by any means, but it is a decent crime drama.

Tonight's premiere follows the team, led by Anthony LaPaglia as FBI senior agent Jack Malone, as they try to find a missing marketing executive, played by "American Embassy" star Arija Bareikis.

Malone's colleagues have little definition so far, particularly Samantha Spade (Poppy Montgomery) and Vivian Johnson (Marianne Jean-Baptiste, talented star of "Secrets and Lies"). Rookie Martin Fitzgerald (Eric Close) butts heads with Danny Taylor (Enrique Murciano), who's envious of Fitzgerald's quick advancement.

The investigators work from a white dry-erase board in their Manhattan office, where they try to piece together a timeline of the missing person. Like so many other new fall dramas, it's all about solving a mystery, putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

"Without a Trace" is timely, eerily so, especially after all the cases of kidnapped children that drove the news this summer. Next week's episode features an 11-year-old who disappears on his birthday. The boy seems like an innocent victim until the FBI team begins to uncover the truth behind his disappearance.

Early episodes end on a relatively positive note, but producers say that won't always be the case. Some cases will go unsolved or end in the death of the missing person, but chances are those will be fewer in number than the FBI victories.

CBS also announced plans this week to run a 15-second profile of a real missing person at the end of each episode. The real FBI will provide information about the missing person.

 
 
"Scrubs"

WHEN: 8:30 tonight on NBC.

STARRING: Zach Braff.

   
 

'Scrubs'

It's such a welcome change to have a smart, intelligent comedy series airing after "Friends," but tonight's season premiere of "Scrubs" may be too quirky for its own good.

Don't get me wrong: As a "Scrubs" fan, I enjoyed the episode, but new viewers might not get it.

They might not appreciate the cockeyed humor, as when the antagonistic janitor (Neil Flynn) sprays cleaning solution onto the front of J.D.'s pants and exclaims, "Looks like somebody went to big boy pants too soon."

Colin Hay of Men at Work appears in tonight's episode as a troubadour who, inexplicably and without comment, follows J.D. around the hospital until he gets a funny, if predictable, comeuppance.

New viewers might not appreciate the relationships among the core characters, which are pivotal in this episode, which picks up the day after the season finale. In that May episode, Dr. Cox's (John C. McGinley) evil ex-wife, Jordan (recurring guest Christa Miller), spilled the secrets of all the regulars. Now they have to live with those revelations.

J.D. (Zach Braff) finds himself sharing his bed with roommate Turk (Donald Faison) after Turk's girlfriend (Judy Reyes) kicks him out of their bed. J.D. is upset to find Turk's head sharing their pillow, contrary to their agreement that they'd sleep head to foot. Turk dismisses his complaints, saying, "Any way you do it, the naughty bits are still in alignment."

Even the occasional "naughty bits" in "Scrubs" are inoffensive because the show is so consistently good-natured. "Friends" fans should consider themselves lucky to have "Scrubs" as a chaser.

 
 
"Good Morning, Miami"

WHEN: 9:30 tonight on NBC.

STARRING: Mark Feuerstein.

   
 

'Good Morning, Miami'

The creators of the hit "Will & Grace" landed a plum slot for this deadly sitcom because, well, they're the creators of the hit "Will & Grace." But they're not miracle workers. If they were, "Good Morning, Miami" (9:30 tonight, NBC) would be a much better show.

It's the story of news producer Jake Silver (the unappealing Mark Feuerstein), who takes a job at Miami's lowest-rated morning show because he has a crush on the show's hair and makeup stylist, Dylan (Ashley Williams).

Before he makes that decision, insecure station manager Frank (Jere Burns) offers him the moon: "I'll do anything. I'll line your pockets with cash. I'll get you escorts, and when I say escorts, I mean whores, not cars."

Granted, this is a comedy, but a visibly insecure station manager? Arrogant or a control freak, I'd believe. I'd even settle for confident, but outwardly insecure defies reality. Likewise, the weathercasting nun is neither funny nor anywhere within the bounds of believability.

Jake's encounters with the morning show's hosts are more entertaining. Recasting the male host from the original pilot was particularly smart. As Gavin Stone, Matt Letscher is a formidable adversary for the weenie-like Feuerstein, who already befouled NBC's airwaves on "Conrad Bloom." (He's a lot less objectionable on dramas, as in his recurring guest role last season on "The West Wing.")

"If passing out and skank-banging were Olympic events, I'd have a gold medal in both," Gavin brags.

It's that kind of show: Brash and bawdy but only intermittently funny.


Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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