Justin Hartley is best known for his role as Kevin Pearson on the critically acclaimed NBC sobfest “This Is Us.” But his new CBS series “Tracker” is showcasing him in a new light. Based on Jeffery Deaver’s best-selling novel, “The Never Game,” “Tracker,” which is executive produced by Hartley and his ChangeUp Production company, centers on his lone-wolf survivalist character Colter Shaw. Stoic and aloof, Colter travels around the country with his Airstream trailer hooked to his pickup truck, tracking down people and objects for a fee. A typical procedural drama, “Tracker” digs into a new mystery each episode, with Colter, who calls himself a “rewardist” (though he’s essentially a bounty hunter), using his expert training to unearth clues others have missed. While some episodes are more intriguing than others, the show’s truly compelling conundrum, Colter’s troubled upbringing, doesn’t get the spotlight it deserves.
The pilot, titled “Klamath Falls” — and given the much-desired post-Super Bowl launching pad on CBS — follows Colter on a $20,000 quest to determine the whereabouts of a 14-year-old boy who goes missing after being contacted by his estranged birth father. This opening episode painstakingly illustrates Colter’s preoccupation with small details, mastery of countless weaponry and comprehensive knowledge of survival percentages. Unfortunately, when the series isn’t actively zoomed in on the various leads in the cases, the stilted dialogue among the characters makes it challenging for viewers to connect to the narrative.
Many long-running procedural dramas like “9-1-1” and the “Law & Order” franchise boast hefty casts with complex backgrounds and storylines. However, “Tracker” has a modest cast whose rapport is complicated by the fact that Colter is constantly on the road. His admins consist of wife and wife team, Velma (Abby McEnany) and Teddi (Robin Weigert) Bruin, who work out of their home, digging up cases for Colter, ensuring he collects the rewards and urging him to stay on task. Bobby Exley (Eric Graise), a double amputee Colter might have rescued in the past, is another essential team member. A skilled hacker, Bobby effortlessly digs up information on victims and suspects while delivering a witty line or two. Finally, there is Reenie Greene (Fiona Rene), an attorney who won’t let the simmering sexual tension between her and Colter color her ability to get him out of legal binds. Since all of these characters are spread around different corners of the country, the show doesn’t always feel cohesive.
As a procedural, “Tracker” works fine. Though the series opener isn’t exactly riveting, Episode 2, “Springland,” follows Colter tracking down a missing woman in a resort town. The hostility he encounters from everyone, including the sheriff and an affluent family, is palpable. When the truth behind the woman’s disappearance is revealed, it’s genuinely a surprising turn of events. Episodes like this display how easily viewers can be sucked in by these types of dramas while highlighting how challenging it can be to deliver engaging chapters consistently.
Still, the most fascinating aspect of “Tracker” isn’t the rewardist’s countless investigations. Instead, as is displayed in the pilot, Colter’s traumatic childhood, living off the grid and being raised by a father dealing with mental illness and paranoia, deserves a closer look. An incident involving Colter and his siblings during one of his dad’s outbursts changed the Shaw family forever. But of course, being the recluse that he is, Colter is in no rush to confront his past or unpack any of the trauma surrounding it.
Overall, “Tracker” works fine for a network drama, but it’s no standout. If not for Hartley’s star power, it would be forgettable, especially since Colter Shaw lacks the charisma of Kevin Pearson. Even amid knife fights, shootouts and dangerous encounters, the show offers nothing that hasn’t already been seen in an increasingly crowded television landscape. While the series is easy to dip into, without a consistent core case, it’s also just as simple to step away from it and turn to long-running series with cult followings or other procedural rookies that have mastered the twist and spotlight a core group of charming leads.
“Tracker” will premiere Feb. 11 on CBS after the Super Bowl, with new episodes airing weekly on Sundays.