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Fall '06: "Kidnapped"

KidnappedThere are two shows on the fall TV schedule that, while seemingly identical, couldn't be more different. No, I'm not talking about Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and 30 Rock. Or Six Degrees and The Nine. (You get the idea -- TV premises are cheaper if you buy in bulk.)

The two shows I'm thinking of are NBC's Kidnapped and Fox's Vanished. By all outside appearances, these are both hourlong, serialized dramas that follow a kidnapping over the course of a season. Both kidnappees are the family members of powerful men. Both kidnappings actually involve more than meets the eye at first -- which is good, because otherwise you'd be stretching a single episode of Without a Trace over 22 hours, and I don't need that much Anthony LaPaglia in my life.

But, oh, what a difference. Vanished is a confused piece of junk, a shabbily directed, flatly acted, poorly written series with a mystifying premise twist that makes the writers of The Da Vinci Code and "National Treasure" look like Marvin Kalb.

Kidnapped, on the other hand, is a slickly produced, fast-paced series with a solid premise, excellent writing, and a great cast. Only Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip's pilot can match Kidnapped's in terms of pacing -- the show moves.

The basic plot of Kidnapped: the rich Cain family (Timothy Hutton, Dana Delany) has a son, Leopold (Will Denton) who is kidnapped on the streets of New York, despite the vigilant protection of his bodyguard, Virgil (the excellent Mykelti Williamson). To the rescue comes shaggy private investigator Knapp (Jeremy Sisto), who tells the family not to bring in the FBI... and FBI agent Latimer King (Delroy Lindo), who comes into the case regardless of what Knapp wants.

Clearly there's more to Kidnapped's plot than meets the eye, but -- unlike Vanished -- the intelligence of Kidnapped's pilot script gives me a good deal of optimism that the show's producers know where they're going. It also helps that those producers include Jason Smilovic and Michael Dinner of Karen Sisco and David Greenwalt of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.

Yes, there are a couple of eye-rollers in the pilot -- there's always a gung-ho cop who's overly aggressive and screws things up when our heroes Know Better. But in Kidnapped, that cop's failure does give us some idea about the intelligence of Leopold's kidnappers.

I'm also not a big fan of shows that put kids in jeopardy, but Kidnapped walks the right side of that line. Leopold's a smart kid (with a few secrets of his own, I'm guessing), and the way he's treated post-kidnapping isn't anything that set off my child-exploitation radar.

Fans of standalone procedurals like C.S.I. or Without a Trace might get frustrated by the show's overarching plot, which will unfold over the entire season. I might not want to spend a year watching Anthony LaPaglia work a single basic missing persons case, but I'm eager to follow Sisto, Lindo, and Williamson. Kidnapped is a keeper.


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