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TV Series Review

During a ball honoring her charity work, Sara Collins, wife of Georgia Sen. Jeffrey Collins, steps away to take a phone call ... and never returns. The ensuing hunt leads to her immediate abductor, who's found dead in the trunk of his car. Then to the senator's daughter's boyfriend. Then to an abandoned house, where FBI agents discover the frozen-but-thawing corpse of an ex-mayor's wife who disappeared 10 years ago. And then to ...

Indeed, on Fox's whodunit Vanished, leads and clues simply produce more hazy possibilities and questions. Only a few weeks into the fall season, one thing is clear: Miss an episode and you could be completely out of the loop. In the mold of string-you-along thrillers 24, Prison Break, Lost and NBC's twin version of this series, Kidnapped, Vanished does more than just piece together a convoluted story. It also offers an array of characters with sordid pasts or deep, dark secrets that make them good or bad, depending on the week.

So far, it seems we can trust FBI agent Graham Kelton (Gale Harold), who's spearheading the pursuit while being personally targeted by the kidnappers. Kelton quickly discovers this is no average abduction. Sara (Joanne Kelly) may not be Sara after all. And her disappearance could be connected to a longstanding underground society that blends religious zealotry with governmental conspiracy, à la The Da Vinci Code. Or not.

While we're inching toward more definitive revelations, there are a few things Vanished has already proven. Violence and gore play a weekly role in the form of grisly murders, decomposing corpses and massive explosions. One disturbing scene includes a man shooting himself in the head, his blood spraying across a vehicle's windshield. Sex also makes frequent appearances, and a few women in the throes of passion are shown topless from behind. That includes the senator's 18-year-old daughter, who's determined to rebel against her father and elope with her shifty boyfriend.

"Its preemptive premiere makes strategic sense," wrote the L.A. Times' Robert Lloyd about Vanished, noting that the fall schedule will be crowded with similar fare. "As soon as any puzzle is sprung, some kind of awful human desire to know how things will turn out takes over, even when we (often correctly) suspect that the answer won't be worth the investment of our time."

In this plot-driven, twist-heavy genre, it's always difficult to predict just how sordid the crimes will be. So the decision whether to tune in won't be based solely on a willingness to commit the time and energy to keeping up. It will be a question of how bumpy a ride viewers are willing to endure.

Episodes Reviewed: Aug. 21, 28, 2006

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Marcus Yoars

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