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TV Series Review

Ironic, isn't it, that a show named Without a Trace never seems to disappear? CBS' crime procedural has punched the clock for the last seven years, finding success by following a few simple rules: Stick to the formula. Solve the case. Pull in the ratings. It's not flashy, and it rarely inspires water cooler chit-chat. But it won't vanish from CBS' schedule anytime soon. Crusty investigator Jack Malone (Anthony LaPaglia) and his crack team of FBI agents serve as gruff guardian angels for the people of New York City. These investigators work 'round the clock to find missing people and punish the perps.

Sometimes the show even leads viewers to contemplate spiritual issues. Take the case of Jay, a cutthroat business owner who spent three years in a coma before miraculously waking up a kinder, gentler person. "There's a reason you're back," he's told. "You have to share that." He does so by mysteriously vanishing from his hospital, solving a cold case and slipping back into his coma just as unexpectedly as he came out of it.

However, missing persons cases are rarely so sanitary, and Trace's subject matter can be brutal and tawdry. Storylines revolve around infidelity, human trafficking, sexual abuse and murder. In 2004, Trace featured a teen sex orgy so suggestive that the scene spurred a letter-writing campaign from family rights activists and earned the show a record $3.6 million fine from the FCC.

It's not just the evildoers who display questionable morals. As season six wound down last May, Malone found himself under fire for playing fast and loose with the law (and gunning down a would-be kidnapper) to save a teen girl. Meanwhile, agent Samantha Spade (Poppy Montgomery) was single and several months pregnant, debating the future role of her baby's father.

"Good guy?" Malone asks.

"Well, I hope so," Spade answers. "I wasn't expecting to be connected to him for the rest of my life or anything."

In addition to relaxed sexual ethics, language gets rough, including misuses of God's name. And while the series doesn't display the level of blood and gore of channelmate CSI, its 10 p.m. time slot gives it plenty of leeway to push the envelope.

Episodes Reviewed: April 24, May 1, 8, 15, 2008

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Paul Asay

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