Warner Bros. // 2002 // 992 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Lacey Worrell (Retired) // October 20th, 2004
Their recovery window is small...and every case is a race against time.
This show is so good that other prime time dramas pale in comparison.
Season One of CBS's hit TV show Without a Trace is now available on a four-disc, 23-episode collection. The show portrays an FBI unit, led by Anthony LaPaglia's character, that specializes in locating missing persons. Typically, episodes open with the last events in a person's life before he or she disappears. The team attempts to reconstruct the events in the days leading up to the disappearance, shown in a series of flashbacks, but it is never known until the last few moments of the show whether the person will be found alive.
Digging into the lives of the missing often uncovers truths their families don't want to hear. Take, for instance, the episode that focuses on a missing businessman who also happens to be a bigamist, or the missing advertising executive who is a closet cocaine user. Viewers are led to wonder, "If I went missing, what would people find out about me that I wouldn't want them to know?"
This show, especially as viewed on DVD sans commercials, is compelling. Each episode is like a dark mini-movie, and viewers will find themselves riveted, even if they saw the episodes when they originally aired. Viewing Without a Trace in its entirety without interruptions is a completely different experience, even if the transitions where the commercials would be feel slightly choppy.
The acting is stellar. LaPaglia had quite a following before the series was even created through his work in projects such as Murder One and The Client. Eric Close, having starred on a plethora of cancelled shows like Now and Again and McKenna, was precariously nearing George Clooney status before this gig. His character, Martin, struggles not only with inexperience as an agent but with distrustful whispers of nepotism behind his back.
What is also refreshing about Without a Trace is its avoidance of gratuitous gore; the show prefers instead to allow the mounting will-they-or-won't-they-find-the-victim tension to do the work instead, and it's supremely effective. Like NYPD Blue, this show also delves into the personal lives of its characters, but it still manages to keep the focus on the case at hand. There is a unique ability here to portray victims at their most desperate without shamelessly tugging at the heartstrings. If you enjoy twist endings, be sure to view the episode called "Little Big Man"; it blew me away.
The show, now into its third season, continues to evolve, and it is nice to see the current focus on Marianne Jean-Baptiste's (28 Days) character, who was underutilized until the end of Season Two. Several personal relationships between the characters have also developed, and it remains to be seen whether that affects their ability to work as a cohesive unit.
LaPaglia and Season One guest star Charles S. Dutton (Roc) won a well-deserved Golden Globe and an Emmy, respectively, for their performances. Check out Dutton's directing abilities in the heartbreaking miniseries, The Corner, which is also out on DVD.
The overall packaging of this season is terrific; there is an included booklet with episode descriptions, two detailed featurettes on the making of the show, as well as commentaries for the first and last episodes of the season. The overall picture is good, if a little dark (this is intentional), and the sound quality is excellent. This collection is a must-have for fans of the show and for anyone who hates waiting for a show to make it to syndication and then being forced to watch commercial-laden dramatic reruns on TNT.
It is my fervent wish that Without a Trace will not be spun off into three other shows based in other cities; this show easily has a life span of a decade or so if the producers play their cards right. The cliffhanger season finale episode, in which Samantha (Poppy Montgomery, The Other Sister) is held hostage and shot by a crazed man who lost his wife in the World Trade Center bombings, smacks of a ratings ploy. Another irksome detail about Without a Trace is that the main character is named Jack. Between 24 and Lost and probably a few other shows I can't remember at the moment, the name Jack is getting overplayed in prime time. In the future let's give some Toms and Bills a chance, shall we?
Given this show's popularity, it's easy to see that it's already a hit with viewers. For those of you who came on board after its premiere, check out this strong season; the pilot is especially good.
Release yourself from CSI and Law & Order purgatory and watch Without a Trace instead.
Review content copyright © 2004 Lacey Worrell; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 992 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Expanded Season Finale Episode
* Commentary by Creator on Pilot and Finale
* Unaired Scenes
* "Fingerprints: The Visual Imprint of the Show's Designers"
* "The Motive Behind Without a Trace" Featurette