“You are going to survive.”
Tracker, which premiered on CBS Sunday evening following the Super Bowl, begins with Colter Shaw (Justin Hartley) reminding us of this fact: All of the lost people he finds will live, even if they’re suffering through grave illnesses or near-fatal injuries. Thanks to his off-the-grid upbringing, Colter has the ability to find nearly any missing person and rescue them from danger. The only thing Colter can’t save? His own show, which continually struggles to stay afloat.
Colter calls himself a “rewardist.” He seeks the prize money from missing persons cases in the western part of the country. Deeming himself a lone wolf, Colton works on his own terms—the reward becomes legally binding, he argues, as soon as he’s found the person. He’s willing to break the law to find these people and cash in on those huge sums. But… is a $20,000 prize really worth it when you constantly have to pay bail, travel money, and other living costs? At that point, a job with law enforcement seems like a better opportunity.
Alas, no—Colter would rather rely on his friends in law enforcement to unshackle him every time he makes a mistake. That’s the secret about Tracker: Although Colter takes credit for all of these rescues, he doesn’t actually do all that much. In fact, all he does is either A) gripe about how other people annoy him or B) stand around looking hot. Instead of doing the hunting himself, Colter relies on a network of allies to do the work for him. One would hope that they get a cut. But when watching a show like Tracker, we want to see the investigator himself trailing these missing people.
Colter’s married friends Teddy (Robin Weigert) and Velma (Abby McEnany) are the women on the inside; these two actually identify possible missing persons cases for Colter to solve. Once these two assign him a case over the phone, Colter addresses the people who have set the prize money. This is perhaps the only thing Colter does as a tracker—ensure that, at the end of the day, the money will land in his pocket. Then, after the rewardist is positive that he’ll get his pay, he calls up his techie pal Bob (Eric Graise), who can find anyone by stalking their digital footprint.
This trio of geniuses—Teddy, Velma, and Bob—could cut out the middleman and split the big payout themselves, but that would mean there isn’t a hot white guy leading the charge. Who would want that? The work these three do to single out the most unsolvable cases and put the puzzle pieces together, making them the most interesting part of the show. But no, Colter, in all his hunky glory, gets all the credit.
Tracker could be salvaged if the mysteries were to be of CSI or Law and Order greatness. They are not. It’s not that the cases are predictable—in fact, predictability might help to improve these enigmas, which are simultaneously convoluted and boring. How is this even possible? For example (spoilers for the pilot episode): A mother reports that her son has gone missing, kidnapped by his estranged father. Colter accuses the mother of lying. Well, the mother was lying, in a way—the estranged father is missing too, and later, is presumed dead. But the son is still missing, stolen by some other guy with no connection to the kid. Um, what?
Needless to say, there’s not enough time dedicated to these episode-by-episode conundrums given to Colter, although they should be the most important part of the show. Instead, Tracker is obsessed with unpacking Colter’s tragic backstory as a larger mystery throughout the show. Colter is trying to crack some sort of case involving his father Ashton (Lee Tergesen), who has curiously vanished from his life. But as stated before, Colter is a dull character, and his off-the-grid childhood is just as mundane.
Near the end of the pilot episode, one of Colter’s maligned lady friends—a lawyer who hates his guts after ghosting her, but proceeds to always free him from jail—explains why she keeps coming back to him. “You know what the problem is with you, Colton Shaw? You’re so damn interesting.” He’s not! In fact, Colter may be the opposite of interesting. Tracker wants us to believe, with all his family wounds and childhood trauma, that Colter is the most compelling man on earth. In actuality, Colter is bland, dependent, and irritating—meaning Tracker itself is, too.