Justin Hartley is back on primetime television in a role that is perfect for him.
Fresh off six seasons of the beloved NBC hit This Is Us, Hartley steps into another starring role, this time a CBS vehicle that is all drama, action, and a healthy dose of mystery.
While there’s a lot to work through during Tracker Season 1 Episode 1, the pilot does a tremendous job of introducing Colter Shaw, whose personal story may be the ace in the hole this series needs to set it apart.
If you’re like me, you’ve watched a lot of pilots in your lifetime. And the main thing you want to take away from the first episode in a new universe is a reason to return.
If the credits roll and you have no interest in seeing what happens next, then the series didn’t do its job.
That’s certainly not the case with Tracker, a series that drops you right into the action and lets the story take over from there.
During the first few minutes we spend with Colter, we see him trying to save a woman suffering from hypothermia and a broken leg out in the middle of the vast desert, making it vehemently clear he’s a man built to save others.
The series decides to include a lot of exposition in those opening frames as Colter helps stabilize the poor girl, and it’s mainly for the audience’s benefit, though it does insert Colter into the narrative as the charming and knowledgeable survivalist he aims to be.
Colter Shaw has extensive knowledge about all things outdoors, but his calmness in the face of a pretty dire situation is what’s most captivating about the opening. Sure, we can deduce it’s his job to save this woman, but he’s alone, relatively unburdened with medical equipment and in a very remote area.
It’d be perfectly normal to be a little overwhelmed, but Colter’s not only helpful but also rational.
The decision to get through the opening rescue before revealing his job was an excellent way to introduce the plot without being totally heavy-handed.
If you don’t know what the series is about, you may be confused as to why he’s out there in the first place and seemingly prepared to make the save. How did he know where she was? Why does he have the necessary equipment to at least get her stabilized? Where is his backup?
Saving the reward seeker reveal for post-rescue is a great AH moment, simultaneously answering various questions and setting off a million more.
From the outside looking in, Colter seems like a decent guy, if not a bit lonely, though that’s not explicitly felt through the screen.
If you wondered whether or not being a reward seeker is real, then join the club because that’s immediately where my mind went.
On the one hand, it’s a noble thing if you’re doing it for the right reasons, which comes up a few times throughout the hour when Colter’s intentions are questioned.
The man needs to make a living, but we obviously live in a society where there are various ways to put food on the table and a roof over your head. Colter chose to harness the skills he learned in his challenging adolescence to help people.
But his help doesn’t come without a price.
Though, him not taking a dime if the job is unsuccessful tells you that the man isn’t purely looking to get paid for his time. His end goal is the same as those who hire him: to bring their people home.
If anything, it seems like it would be a somewhat unpredictable line of work because, unfortunately, a lot of people go missing every day from all walks of life, and not every family or loved one has the means to offer up a sizeable reward for their safe return.
And those are clearly the kinds of cases Colter takes on, as we see when he takes on the case of a missing teenager.
On the surface, the case is filled with all the twists and turns you expect from a series like this. You’re led to believe the kidnapper is one person, and then you’re thrown for a loop when you find out it’s nothing like it seems.
The case is relatively intriguing as Colter figures out over time that the young teenager’s disappearance wasn’t by his father but something much more sinister, and throughout his investigation, you can see why people are so drawn to Colter and his skills.
Colter isn’t exactly a complete lone wolf, as he has handlers in Velma and Teddi Bruin to get him connected to his various cases, and techy Bob is the one who really helps him get a lead regarding the case.
Even though the bulk of the hour is spent on Gil’s disappearance and Colter’s backstory, which is necessary and gripping, the introductions to all of the other characters are solid, especially Bob, who seems to have a heavy history with Colter that’s only hinted at in a quick phone call.
With Colter’s job so often having him out on the open road, it seems we’ll be getting all the secondary characters away from the action, so it’ll be essential for the show to make these characters fully realized and not just Colter’s props.
Velma and Teddi get time to show the dynamics of their relationship through various scenes, and discovering their connection to Colter and how the hell they became his handlers will undoubtedly be something the audience will want to learn as the season progresses.
There’s a familiarity there that feels lived in even though the three of them are never in the same room. And that’s not easy to pull off in the beginning hours when the audience craves those early hints of chemistry.
A familiar face for Colter is Reenie Greene, and their backstory is quite the doozy.
Characters dumping a whole backstory amid a conversation can be a lot, but it works here in the way it introduces Reenie’s no-nonsense attitude and serves to cut down a bit of the perfect air floating behind Colter throughout the whole affair.
We know he’s a decent human being capable of figuring out the probability of any situation at the drop of a dime, but a human main character is a lot more noteworthy than one who seems like they came out of a lab.
Reenie and Colter have great will they/won’t they potential, and their brief scenes add a lot of levity to an hour that can feel a bit heavy at times.
Colter also has fantastic chemistry with Officer Amini, who often serves in place of the audience when she questions Colter’s intentions and gets him to open up about his childhood.
Together, they’re the ones who truly rescue Gil, and their inevitable hookup feels tacked on to reinforce Colter’s nomadic and fast-paced lifestyle further. He’s not the guy you bring home because he will only be setting up his RV in one place for a short time.
You can tell Colter feels pulled to Gil’s case due to his complicated relationship with his father. And as we see it play out through flashbacks, it’s clear Colter’s childhood was fraught with many challenges.
There are a lot of teases splayed throughout the flashbacks, especially as they pertain to how exactly the Shaw family ended up living in the middle of nowhere. There was an “incident” involving Ashton that caused them to leave their California life, but why choose to remove yourself from society?
Colter mentions his father preparing them for the day someone would be coming for them, but given what we see here, there’s very little to back up that claim, with Colter seemingly just as confused as we are.
When Colter periodically checks his phone and sees varying degrees of threatening text messages, I thought for sure it was his dad looking to get in contact with him. But then we get the big reveal that Ashton has long since passed, and I wonder if that little reveal wouldn’t have been better served down the line.
I guess that wouldn’t have been possible since they’re setting up the Tracker Season 1 mystery around his brother Russell, who is not only the one trying to get into contact with him but also the one who seemingly pushed his father to his death.
Though, we didn’t see any pushing, and the first rule of television watching is seeing concrete proof of someone’s guilt!
There’s a lot to unpack within the Shaw family mystery, and again, it’s the most exciting part of the pilot. It’s the right kind of intrigue you want, and if the end moments are anything to go by, it will be fascinating to see what kind of journey we’ll go on through the past and present.
We see Colter multiple times read not only situations but people exceptionally well, and that makes sense. If your job is to find the things that have gone missing, that means parsing through all kinds of people and places that want those things to stay gone.
But analyzing your own family can be a little trickier.
Colter’s mom seems to be hiding a lifetime of secrets in the few minutes we spend with her, but Colter doesn’t push. And you have to wonder if he ever has pushed.
Luckily, there’s much more story to tell here, and we’ll be along for that ride.
Justin Hartley continues to be one of the most effortlessly magnetic actors working today. He has such a strong presence, and he takes what could have been a ho-him series and makes it deliciously entertaining.
Gil’s story was unfortunate when you strip everything away. He was kidnapped by an impostor he thought was his father, who was actually deceased. Talk about devastating.
There were some gorgeous shots during this hour, especially during the opening rescue in the desert.
We know Ashton is dead, Colter’s mom still lives in the cabin, and Russell likes to text. But what happened to Colter’s sister?
Colter barricading himself in the Burger Barn control room was much funnier than it was probably intended to be.
Tracker is everything you want in an action drama, even if, thus far, it’s a little light on the action.
If you’re coming here right off the high of the biggest sporting event in the world, I’d love to know what you thought about the first installment and if it piqued your interest enough to stop by for another helping.
Drop into the comments below and let me know all your thoughts!
Whitney Evans is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on X.