Vanished is one of those dramas that’s so ”unpredictable,” it’s predictable. Nothing is as it seems, and no one is who he pretends to be, and politics is a dirty game, and all marriages have secrets. Like NBC’s fall offering Kidnapped, Fox’s Vanished is a serialized mystery revolving around the recovery of a rich missing person. In this case, it’s the wife of Sen. Jeffrey Collins (24’s John Allen Nelson). Barely three minutes into the busy debut episode, beautiful, young Sara Collins (Joanne Kelly) utters that magical phrase destined to make any TV character’s day end poorly: ”Jeff, there’s something I need to tell you.” She mentions this to her husband and then, in accordance with the regulations set by the Enigmatic Doomed Women’s Guild, decides not to tell him just yet. Sara never gets a chance; later that night, she goes missing from a benefit dinner.
We soon realize, of course, that Sara is not the woman we think she is: She’s pregnant, yet infertile; she loved her husband, although she left her parents a vague but alarming voice-mail about him (can’t this woman spit anything out?); and just before her disappearance, she had a meeting that can only be described as suspicious. Like last year’s Fox whodunit Reunion, the good writers at Vanished seem overly charmed with the Everyone’s a suspect! thing. Between CSI-style fingerprinting (creator Josh Berman was a writer on that show) and cheesy shots of children singing plaintively in church, we are introduced to various stock characters, all played by likable actors. Special agent Graham Kelton (Deadwood’s Wyatt Earp, Gale Harold) is haunted by an abducted child he failed to save, while his long-suffering partner (Ming-Na, as crisp and sensible as she was in last year’s Inconceivable, and in her four-year stint on ER, and in 1995’s The Single Guy) tries to keep him in line. A tough reporter (Rebecca Gayheart, just tart enough that she may finally shed her Noxzema Girl image) is all over the case, which is clearly more than just a simple kidnapping: Before the hour’s up, an old political mystery resurfaces.
Of all the familiar faces among the cast, the most welcome is Nelson’s — here he’s a possibly duplicitous senator; on the past season of 24, he was the decidedly duplicitous chief of staff Walt Cummings. Of all the gripping supporting actors on 24, no one was more capable of quietly holding our attention than Nelson (with the exception of Glenn Morshower as super-decent special agent Aaron Pierce, who should have his own spin-off). Whether Nelson will get a chance to play anything more than a shadowy outline of a character is to be determined — so far, Vanished seems more interested in keeping us spinning than pulling us in.