Although, as far as I remember (hey, its been almost 12 years since this show first premiered!), I did not start watching [[ASIN:B0002DRE72 Without a Trace]] when it first aired on CBS in September of 2002 and instead, I only got into the show, later on (at least a few years later) after seeing reruns in syndication, it is now one of my (definitely in the top 6) ABSOLUTE FAVORITE shows on TV!!
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (who also produced [[ASIN:B00005JO9K Cold Case]] -- another show that, if I recall correctly, I also started watching around the same time) [[ASIN:B0002DRE72 Without a Trace]] is about the cases of the New York City FBI field office's Missing Persons Unit (which, AFAIK does NOT exist in real-life, as missing persons cases are NOT usually handled by the FBI, but rather local police departments -- except in cases of ransom, kidnapping across state lines, or child abduction) as well as, to a lesser degree, the personal lives of the FBI agents on this squad.
In the early seasons of the show, the FBI Missing Persons Unit consists of Special Agent Samantha "Sam" Spade (played by Poppy Montgomery) a cynical but yet very compassionate agent (in my opinion, like ALL the agents in this unit), trying to overcome a difficult childhood, Special Agent Danny Taylor (played by Enrique Murciano) a former foster child after being orphaned at the age of 11, is a somewhat tough-talking streetwise agent, with a sharp sense of humor and a quick temper at times but yet, a good heart ALL the time, Special Agent Martin Fitzgerald (played by Eric Close), the newcomer rookie agent and the son of the Deputy Director of the FBI, is trying to prove himself to the fellow agents in his unit, and show them that he earned his position on his own merit & competence and NOT because of the nepotism of being the Deputy Director's son, and Special Agent Vivian Johnson (played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste) a very knowledgeable veteran agent whose wisdom provides balance to the cynicism, hot-headedness, and inexperience of the other agents on the team. The Missing Persons Unit is commanded by Supervisory Special Agent Jack Malone (played by Anthony LaPaglia) a well-intentioned if not impulsive head agent with a cowboy attitude and a propensity to bend, if not even outright break the rules, in the name of finding the missing person, catching the culprit responsible (if applicable) and solving the case. Jack's maverick attitude extends to his home life, where his already-rocky marriage has been disintegrating (and eventually in later seasons, ends in an acrimonious divorce) since a brief illicit affair with fellow agent & subordinate, Samantha Spade (that occurred prior to the start of the series) with whom he has an on-again/off-again relationship throughout the run of the series.
[[ASIN:B0002DRE72 Without a Trace]] is a gripping, suspenseful and intriguing mystery/crime drama that deals with the cases of various missing people, as well as the personal lives of the FBI agents trying to find them. It follows these aforementioned agents from the time they are called in on a Missing Persons case, as they race against the clock, to find out who the missing individual(s) are and learn all about them to locate them, and solve the case. Whether they were abducted, or they ran away, or whether they committed suicide or met with an accident or foul play, are all potential scenarios that the agents in the Missing Persons Unit have to consider during the course of their investigation. Working backwards in time, these FBI agents have to track the movements as well as the behavior, verbal statements, phone & computer activity and other actions, of the missing person in the hours, days, weeks and even months & years prior to the disappearance, in order to trace where they might be and/or what might've happened to them. The agents have to both look backwards in time while moving forward as the countdown continues to find the missing person before the crucial 48 hours (because its believed that the chances of finding a missing person alive after 48 hours [or in the case of missing children, 24 hours] is very slim to none) have passed. Which is why, throughout the episode, there are periodic updates (in the form of subtitled scene intros) stating how long the missing person has been gone -- and as the hours tick by, without any luck finding the missing, the pressure, anxiety, and tension mounts as the case becomes more dire.
Adding to the suspense is the fact that, for the most part, none (or very few) of the cases end in the exact same way -- and just like in real-life, not all of the missing person cases have happy "fairy-tale" endings. Some of the people are found alive, others are found dead, and some cases are left unsolved as an "open case"/"cold case" and viewers are never shown what happens, instead being left to draw their own conclusions about the fate of the case. Not to mention that some/many of the episodes have unforeseen twists & turns that often viewers never see coming. For example, a case in which the squad is searching for a missing individual who they suspect is in danger, only the agents later learn that the missing person actually committed a crime, and then the case turns from a missing person search, to a manhunt for a fugitive and the episode ends with the missing person in handcuffs. Or vice versa, where the squad is searching for someone who they believe is a fugitive on the run, only to later learn that the missing person was actually innocent (even framed) for the crime, and the case turns from a manhunt for a fugitive, to a search for a missing person in danger, and the episode ends with the person being exonerated and their name cleared in one way or another. Thanks to the SUPERB writing (including all the unexpected twists and turns) which keeps viewers (or at least me!) on the edge of their seats, its difficult if not impossible to predict how the specific missing person's case & the episode will play out. That's not something you can say about most TV shows, which are often formulaic rehash/déjà vu of episodes of other shows, or even past episodes of the same show.
Also, [[ASIN:B0002DRE72 Without a Trace]] manages to establish great characters that the viewer cares about early on, so much so that you almost forget that its a TV show, and think that its a real-life, and you're a part of the Missing Persons squad, trying to solve the case and find the missing individual(s). From pretty much the first episode of this show I saw (as well as later on, the 2nd episode on of this season -- since I started watching the show several seasons into the series run, the episodes in this season was not the first I saw) I was hooked on the show and as attached to the characters and their storylines as if they were my good friends!
Although there ARE a few episodes in this season that I don't particularly like (a couple I even hate), there are others that are ABSOLUTE FAVORITES, and have seen MULTIPLE times!
My favorite episodes in this season are "Birthday Boy" in which the team works to solve the case of a young boy who disappeared on the way to a birthday trip to a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, "Snatch Back" in which the agents search for the daughter of a district attorney/prosecutor who was abducted from a park, and "Underground Railroad" in which the squad races against the clock to find a missing pregnant woman with life-threatening complications. But my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE episodes (which I've seen NUMEROUS times) in this season, are "Maple Street", in which the agents are working to solve the case of a sheltered 13 year old girl who disappeared on the way to school in an idyllic Long Island small town, when her best friend suddenly disappears too (I especially ♡ the concern & compassion of the agents in this episode particularly Samantha Spade and Jack Malone), and and "Clare De Lune" about a young girl who disappears from a psychiatric hospital (this episode, especially the scene[s] with Danny Taylor at the end of the episode, are HEART-RENDING!!)
My only quibble with this item, is the packaging. The DVDs are housed in a fold-out cardboard case, that fits inside a plastic-like slipcover. Aside from the fact that I ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY HATE cardboard DVD boxes (or for that matter, ANY style of DVD cases that involves cardboard), the printing/graphics on the fold-out DVD case is on the wrong side of the to coordinate with the matching/fitting graphics on the plastic slipcover case, resulting in the opening of the fold out DVD section facing the outside of the box, instead of being secured in the closed part of the slipcover. Rather than a plastic slipcover case holding a cardboard box that unfolds and folds up/out (the style used for THIS set), I much PREFER the single plastic DVD case with an inner tray-rack to hold the discs (like the DVD case for [[ASIN:B0080QOKHU Without a Trace: Season 3]] among others!) instead!
I am kind of anal about my DVD sets (actually, DVDs & CDs in general!), and I HATE the cardboard box style of DVD case which often gets worn, scuffed, and/or peeling at the edges and corners of the box. In my experience so far, plastic DVD cases do NOT have those problems -- at most, the clear plastic sheet on the outside of the DVD case (into which the paper cover is inserted) *might* get a little wrinkled or soiled/dusty.
But the few wrinkles or soiling on the plastic cases is at least something I can live with, UNLIKE the significant scuffing & peeling into white spots/patches on the corners & edges of cardboard cases, which is really aggravating! That is why I'd much rather have a single plastic DVD case with an inner-tray/rack which doesn't get much (if ANY!) edgewear, shelfwear, corner-wear, and/or scuffing & peeling, and is pretty much care-free!
[[ASIN:B0002DRE72 Without a Trace]] is a GREAT show, and even though its no longer on the air anymore, I'm so glad to have not only this season on DVD, but now that I finally have the rest of the series (the final 4 seasons which I just recently bought) on DVD I can have any episode in the series at my fingertips whenever I want to see it, instead of having to hope that (and wait for) the show is broadcast in syndication and wait for the particular episode to re-air!
I ♥ [[ASIN:B0002DRE72 Without a Trace]]! Now if they'd only just find a way to clear the music rights so that they could release [[ASIN:B00005JO9K Cold Case]] on DVD as well!!