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‘Traveler’: Welcome to the Terrorist Smithsonian

Viola Davis in TravelerCourtesy of ABC


Don’t let anyone tell you that last night's two-hour premiere of ABC’s new chase series Traveler contained no surprises. There was one single surprise: the revelation of a small chink in the otherwise formidable armor of Viola Davis’s acting talent. Davis, known to New York theatergoers for her performances in Intimate Apparel and King Hedley II (for which she won a Tony) plays weary, disrespected counterterrorism agent Marlow (reference, people! Homage! Tribute!), by far the best thing about Traveler. For one thing, she's the only character to suggest an inner life beyond the exposi-tastic dialogue. (One character to his two friends at the outset of a road trip: “For the next two months, I’m not a chemical engineer, you, Tyler, are not a venture capitalist and you, Jay, are definitely not a lawyer.”) But the shocking truth is that this venerated giant of the American theater looks ridiculous chasing a suspected terrorist up a fire escape. Viola Davis can’t run.

Otherwise, Traveler is pretty surprise-free, with a painfully obvious pitch: The Fugitive meets Lost meets 24. Bland young white twentysomethings Jay and Tyler (Matthew Bomer and Logan Marshall-Green) are framed for blowing up an unnamed NYC museum by their mysterious grad-school buddy Will Traveler (Aaron Stanford) and must go on the run to find the truth of Traveler’s identity and clear their names, with New York’s Counter Terrorism Unit (what else are they gonna call it?) in hot pursuit. Along the way, they occasionally pause for Lost-like flashbacks to their pre-fugitive lives.

We like to imagine Will Traveler’s pitch, two years ago, to his (presumably evil but maybe not) masters. “You want me to frame these two particular guys for blowing up an art museum? No problem!" he must have said. "I’ll just move in with them in grad school, hang out with them for two years, and always have some object concealing my face whenever anyone takes a picture at a party so there won’t be any proof later that I exist! Then — this is so genius — I’ll get them to go on a road trip with me, convince them to Rollerblade through a museum as a prank, and then once they’re out, blow up the museum! My brain should be in the Terrorist Smithsonian!” —Mac Rogers