‘Tracker’ Review: The First 6 Episodes of the CBS Drama

Tracker is the latest and greatest mystery of the week network show courtesy of CBS. The show stars Justin Hartley in the lead role of Colter Shaw. Tracker is about a man with a particular set of skills (no, not Liam Neeson in Taken), the ability to find people (and things) who are either missing or don’t want to be found. He uses his powers for good, acting as a mercenary or “rewardist” for hire for those offering reward money. There’s a caveat to his tracker services contract: he only collects on delivery. And delivery, or finding the people, is where the mystery of the week procedural drama in Tracker comes in. Tracker is a unique show among procedurals and is thoroughly entertaining and engaging. From acting to writing and more, the show is an all around example of excellent storytelling that makes it a must-watch. 

Although I’m a fan of procedurals and think they are fantastic training grounds for writers and anyone wanting to be involved in the TV industry, Tracker didn’t blip on my radar when it was first launched. (Another CBS gem, The Equalizer, with Queen Latifah, filled the procedural-sized hole in my heart.) Ultimately, the show broke through the noise because of The Hollywood Reporter’s Glenn Powell/Justin Hartley Golden Globered-carpet name switcheroo. (I still maintain that the body swap comedy would be hilarious.) Powell and Tracker’s leading man, Hartley, have a similar presence, so one not-so-intrepid captioner mistakenly identified one actor for the other. And thus, the body-swap jokes were born. 

Tracker is a high-stakes procedural

But back to Tracker and Justin Hartley. Colter’s cases are not simple, and they’re all high stakes—a lot of the drama in the show is built in because of the ticking clock inherent in finding the people or things. Be it a kidnapped child, a missing racehorse, or a van life dweller that may have run off, each mystery has a pressing reason for Colter’s intervention. And as we learn more about the character, it’s clear he’s not just doing it for the reward money. Tracker has a strong element of danger, too. Colter is not military or law enforcement, but in each episode, he’s up against forces who would rather keep what he’s looking for hidden. There are gangs, politically connected old money families, ex-inmates, and more that all have it out for him. 

In Tracker, Colter also has a consistent emotional connection to the cases. That connection provides us the anchor to his own survivalist family history revealed through the season with each episode. Each mystery of the week episode unravels who Colter is as a person, from what happened to his dad to sudden phone calls from his brother. 

Mattia Castrillo as Gil Brown and Justin Hartley as Colter Shaw. Photo: Michael Courtney/CBS ©2022 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Mattia Castrillo as Gil Brown and Justin Hartley as Colter Shaw. Image courtesy of CBS.

The first episode, Klamath Falls, takes a beat to establish the world we’re in. There’s some on-the-nose world-building, which is excusable given this is an original pilot and not a spinoff from another show. The audience needs time to see who Colter is, meet his team, and decide if he’s a root-worthy character. Tracker, pleasingly, gives us all that. It’s a testament to writers’ and filmmakers’ skill and audience respect. Showrunners Hilary Weisman Graham and Ben H. Winters have done an excellent job. 

I’ll note that Tracker is original for TV, but it’s also an adaptation of a Jeffrey Deaver book series. Deaver is a crime writer who wrote The Never Game, which the show is adapted from. And it’s not Deaver’s first turn having his work adapted. Among others, Deaver is responsible for The Bone Collector, which starred Denzel WashingtonAngelina Jolie, and, yes, Queen Latifah.

There are moments in Tracker that remind me of Bones, particularly with Colter’s emotional baggage from his parents. The show is a better first outing than some other newbie procedurals in recent years that will remain unnamed, that although they have charming actors, can’t quite crack the nut of making us care about the protagonist, the cases, and the world. We care about all of it in Tracker. 

Pictured: Abby McEnany as Velma Bruin and Robin Weigert as Teddi Bruin. Photo: Michael Courtney/CBS ©2022 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Abby McEnany as Velma Bruin and Robin Weigert as Teddi Bruin in Tracker. Image courtesy of CBS.

Justin Hartley is the perfect Colter Shaw in Tracker

It’s after the pilot that Tracker really finds its stride. The cases are interesting, and unraveling the mystery of Colter Shaw and his complicated family history is also interesting. Justin Hartley is the perfect Colter, carrying himself with a swagger that makes him easily believable in the role. There is a sincerity to how he plays the character that’s rooted in the character’s backstory, and that’s really refreshing to see.

It’s not all-guns-blazing, but there’s a depth and intelligence in the portrayal that makes you believe the character he’s playing really cares about the cases he’s solving and the people he’s finding. He’s not Justin Hartley; he is Colter as far as I’m concerned. It’s as effective as and on the same levels as when Timothy Olyphant slips into the role of Raylan Givens in Justified. (Or even when Nathan Fillion was Richard Castle in Castle.) The swagger is different as required by the role, but you stop seeing the actor because the character is skillfully brought to life. 

The sixth episode of Tracker, entitled Lexington, aired on Sunday night. Four more episodes remain, including Chicago and Camden, to conclude the first season. A second season is in the works, with an airdate unknown. We can’t wait. 

Justin Hartley as Colter Shaw. Photo: Ed Araquel/CBS ©2024 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Justin Hartley as Colter Shaw in Tracker. Image courtesy of CBS.

Tracker is now streaming.

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