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Without A Trace: Season 1 Box Set (15)



Review: Jack Foley

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted scenes; Jerry Bruckheimer interview; Commentary on pilot episode and a featurette.

EPISODE TITLES: Episodes titles: Pilot, Birthday Boy, He Saw She Saw, Between The Cracks, Suspect, Silent Partner, Snatch Back, Little Big Man, In Extremis, Midnight Sun, Maple Street, Underground Railroad, Hang On To Me, The Friendly Skies, There Goes the Bride, Clare De Lune, Kam Li, The Source, Victory For Humanity, No Mas, Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been?, Fall Out 1, Fall Out 2.

THERE is one compelling reason to watch Without A Trace, the latest slick police drama from the Jerry Bruckheimer stable, and that's Anthony Lapaglia.

The Australian star has often been criminally overlooked as a cinema actor - despite delivering scene-stealing turns wherever possible - yet remains one of the brightest character actors of his generation.

Just witness his heartbreaking turn as a cop in Lantana, or his charismatic lead in the second season of Steven Bochco's under-rated legal drama, Murder One, as examples of this.

With the pulling power of Bruckheimer behind him, however, Lapaglia finally gets the platform his talents so richly deserve - and boy does he take it.

Without A Trace is now one of the top-rated shows in American television; one which is capable of rivalling CSI for both quality and audience pulling power.

Yet it could so easily have turned into a lame cash-in of the Law & Order/CSI brand.

With Lapaglia at the helm, however, Without A Trace quickly emerged as a riveting take on the detective genre, tackling missing persons cases in a fresh and often surprising way.

Lapaglia plays agent Jack Malone, head of the missing persons unit of the FBI, which is also comprised of Samantha Spade (Poppy Montgomery), an agent who doesn't let her good looks get in the way of being tough; Vivian Johnson (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a no-nonsense investigator; Danny Taylor (Enrique Murciano), an intense and private agent; and Martin Fitzgerald (Eric Close), the newest member of the team.

In terms of demographic, it is almost too picture-perfect and could have become irritating, particularly as the series, on the whole, has that polished sheen of a Bruckheimer production.

But performance-wise, each cast member is spot on, with Malone emerging as the no-nonsense, yet fiercely loyal father-figure, who rates as one of the best ever to grace the detective genre.

Lapaglia was rightly rewarded with a Golden Globe win for best actor after the first season of the series.

What's more, the stories were richly compelling and seldom afraid to tackle difficult issues, including America, post-9/11 and taboo subjects such as paedophilia and child abuse.

It may have lacked the out-and-out shock value of a HBO production, such as The Sopranos, but in episodes such as He Saw She Saw and the two-part season finale, Fall Out, it carried quite a weighty emotional punch that didn't always need to deliver a happy ending.

And while personal lives took a relative back seat to the case of each week, audiences could quickly identify with and care for each member of Malone's unit, meaning that much of the groundwork had been laid for the second and third seasons that have followed.

Fans of the likes of CSI, Law & Order and NYPD Blue are therefore urged to give this a try, especially if they missed its Channel 4 run, while anyone who has been suitably impressed anyway might like to add this box set to their collection.

It has to rate among US television at its very best.

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