The fall TV season is upon us, and first up for a test ride is 24/Prison Break clone Vanished. The show revolves around the kidnapping of a senator's wife and the ensuing investigation, which is already turning up deep dark secrets, with hints of vast conspiracies and cryptic puzzles to follow. At the end of the pilot episode, the action shifts away from the story's setting in Atlanta and moves to Boston, where a well-dressed, well-coifed man joins his friend at an upscale club (complaining of being held up at work by "the Lawrence account"), only to catch word of the kidnapping on the news and realize that he knew the kidnapped woman under a different name.
In the second episode, we rejoin this character, but we might be forgiven for feeling a little confused. The club has transformed into a working-class bar. The character wears jeans and flannel and, as we later discover, captains a fishing boat.
It's by no means uncommon for some fine-tuning to take place between a show's pilot episode and its regular run, but in the case of Vanished the obvious lack of attention given to an important character (and the obvious lack of respect for the viewers) is suggestive of a general lack of forethought on the part of the writers. Not that this is a surprising discovery--for all that they crow about the novelty of telling a single story in 22 chapters, it's very rare for 24 clones to have their story laid out from day one (24's writers certainly never bothered to do so). Thus far, Vanished has done little or nothing to distinguish its characters and make us like, or even care, about them. Which means that the only quality left for the show to sustain itself with is ratcheting tension, and that, inevitably, one of two things will happen--the show will descend into boredom as the writers slow the plot's pace in order to stretch their story to 22 episodes, or it'll descend into absurdity as the writers throw increasingly unlikely obstacles in their characters' paths in an attempt to do the same. There's a reason why true television novels--like Veronica Mars--always start out with some idea of how the story is going to end, and for that matter, why they work to establish interesting, compelling characters, without which no meaningful storytelling is possible.
So, what's next on the menu?