Without a Trace
Question: First, I love your column; you always give really insightful answers. Second, after two strong episodes of Without a Trace, I wonder what CBS is doing to my favorite show! They make a point of setting up tension between Danny and Jack, adding to the awkwardness between the two from the shooting in the premiere, but by the third episode, they've dropped the whole thing. It's very frustrating. What's more frustrating is that they've added a new cast member, Elena (Roselyn Sanchez), to a cast that doesn't need adding to. In my opinion, they have the strongest cast of the crime shows, so why mess with that chemistry? She didn't add anything in the last episode. Did you like the first two episodes? And what do you think of the new agent?
Answer: There's a lot of this "Why fix what isn't broken?" grumbling going on about the hot procedural crime dramas this season. Pretty much across the board, CBS had its crime dramas shake up the casts — losing or gaining cast or recurring cast members, a process still underway on many of them. The idea, I guess, is for the shows not to get stale. The danger, as almost all of my mail attests, is that it reduces story time for the already established characters. Not to mention that there's already tension most weeks in balancing the crime-solving story of the week with the personal subplots.

Without a Trace does it better than most, which is why I wasn't that thrown by the new addition. What I like about the Elena character (and judging by the letters, I may be in the minority) is that she brings a feisty new attitude to the squad, one that is sure to be tempered by experience as she learns that tracking missing persons requires more nuance and empathy than most beats. The fact that she has a history with Danny should also give the often-underused Enrique Murciano more to do, and that's got to be a plus. As for the show benching the subplots that were developed in the first few excellent episodes — the show is very much on its game this year — well, Trace isn't a soap opera, no matter how much some of its fans may want it to be. I imagine we'll come back to those situations when the story merits it.

On another CBS crime front, there's this from Cindy: "I saw the question about the new female lead on NCIS, which I don't watch, and would like to ask you about another substitution, over at Numbers: Diane Farr for Sabrina Lloyd. So far I am completely underwhelmed with Farr and can't understand why anybody would have displaced Lloyd for her, although to be fair, all of Numbers is currently far less 'whelming' than last year. Do you have any insight on whether Lloyd left of her own accord or was pushed out? For me, it's not just the character; Farr herself grates on me with her manner of delivery. Though I don't watch Rescue Me, I hear her departure is greatly lamented there. What do you think?"

Since you asked: I like Farr a lot. Always have, especially on Rescue Me. Her decision to jump coasts and take this job was her own, much as (I understand) Sabrina Lloyd's decision to leave Numbers may have had something to do with the underwritten nature of her role. Farr is a very distinctive actress, and because of that, she fits in fairly well on a show that features a number of endearing eccentric characters.

And finally, from Ashleye: "Why do you think this Sophia character is being forced on CSI viewers? She has an annoying accent and takes time away from the characters we want to see. With serious cast bloat, why is her addition necessary?" Again, producers and the networks want to mix up these shows that can easily get overly formulaic. But so much for that old maxim that variety is the spice of life, I guess.