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It’s Tracker

2:56 PM EST on February 12, 2024

Handsome-ass Justin Hartley at the 81st Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2024 in Beverly Hills, California.
Gilbert Flores/Golden Globes 2024 via Getty Images

As Super Bowl 58 tightened into a deadlock and stretched through a nervy overtime and past the four-hour mark, it was hard not to feel for Justin Hartley. Everyone who watched the CBS broadcast, or who has watched any CBS/Paramount property over the last months, knows that Hartley plays the character of Tracker in the new CBS series Tracker, and that the series would be premiering once the Super Bowl broadcast ended. This is a coveted spot, but a highly contingent one. Hartley and the rest of the Tracker team could only stay ready, even as the trail grew colder while the game wore on. The NFL postseason can be cruel this way. The episode began at 11:14 p.m. on the East Coast.

And I, alone among Defector staffers, was watching it, both because I'll be talking about it with the good people at the Extra Hot Great podcast on Tuesday and also because, despite or because of having seen the many ads for the show, I had both a good idea what kind of show this was and no real idea what it was about. I knew, from those ads, that it would involve a handsome man driving around helping people in some capacity, and also sometimes looking off into the middle distance while the sun set behind him. The ads further promised that he would at some point be attacked with a knife, and also dangle over a gorge from the back of a pickup truck. It was made very clear that the character would at some point remove his shirt, and a series of subtle contextual clues suggested that he would be doing at least some amount of tracking in the first episode, and possibly in additional future episodes. But why—what makes Tracker track, what makes him so good at it, what brought him to the moment when he was shirtless in that doctor's office, having a wound cleaned by a woman who was all but making a cartoon-style awooga sound—was unclear. Also much of the what was unclear, now that I think about it.

Some may remember Hartley as the grieving, soulful, faintly puppylike himbo on the weepy NBC drama This Is Us; one Defector co-worker instantly identified him as "the guy who was married to Selling Sunset’s Crochelle [sic] in season 1." I was aware of the first part, but going into the episode I mostly just knew that Justin Hartley was Tracker. I know more, now, having actually seen the episode. I know a little bit about Tracker's pain and his calling, what put him out there on the road, and what keeps him doing what he does; I know a little bit about his support team, and his character's real name, which is said a few times in the episode but not frequently or to sufficient effect that I'm going to stop calling the dude Tracker. Millions of Americans, most of them presumably in the Mountain and Pacific time zones, now know all this as well, and will follow him as he blazes a trail across the northwest, helping those in need and living from one reward to the next (this is how he pays his way, and presumably affords his support staff, which includes a sassy lawyer and a nice lesbian couple that finds him cases). But those people are not really my problem. I wish them all well.

The people I work with, on the other hand, all of whom saw the same ads for the show but none of whom actually watched Tracker, very much are my problem. They wanted to talk about Tracker, but they were unable or at any rate unwilling to do the work of actually watching it. And so, instead of telling them what Tracker was about, I asked them to tell me what they thought the show was about based on all the work they had so resolutely refused to do vis-a-vis finding that out. Here are their terrible answers:

Albert Burneko

In my opinion, as someone who has not watched Tracker, nor seen any of the advertisements for it, Tracker is a CBS show about a guy named Tracker who runs track. He’s a difficult one, that Tracker! He pushes people away. He possibly has a substance-abuse problem. But when you get him out on the track, buddy, Tracker is an artist with his feet. Nobody tracks like Tracker!

Patrick Redford

We got locked out of the Airbnb TV at 7:00 p.m. because the TV guide said Tracker was on and it triggered the parental controls.

Dan McQuade

I don’t think I’ve paid close attention to a Super Bowl commercial since Adweek paid me to contribute to a liveblog about them in 2011. Thinking about ads that closely broke my brain so much that I just realized now that I definitely was not paid. But I did learn last night, through osmosis, that the post-Super Bowl TV show was Tracker. The lead-out Super Bowl program is no longer a big deal; last night’s show probably got lower ratings for CBS than when it used to show Lassie afterward.

But I do know a little about what CBS airs nowadays. I watch every day of the men’s NCAA tournament, which airs on CBS, and I cannot block the ads out of my brain when I watch for that long. From this CBS mostly airs game and reality competition shows, Big Bang Theory spinoffs, a show called Ghosts, and cop dramas. I have an idea of what Ghosts is about: Ghosts. Tracker is not so easy. It sounds like an Amazing Race spinoff with a bounty hunter chasing the teams, but I feel like if it were that good I’d have heard about it before last night.

And I do know, though my parents, what network television is like in 2024. It’s basically this t-shirt:

A t-shirt that Dan photographed on the Wildwood boardwalk that looks like a flag and reads "no one fights alone," with the stripes dedicated to "dispatch," EMS, Corrections, Nurse, Police, Fire, and Military.

I believe Tracker could be a few things. One is this: Jack Tracker is a cop who hunts down bad guys who have kidnapped someone or something. Another is: Zack Tracker is an ex-cop who hunts down bad guys who have kidnapped someone or something. My third option is: It is a reality show about Shaq Tracker, which is the new nickname of Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq is an honorary member of several police forces, and once he went along on a botched raid where cops hit the wrong house. This is awful, but it would make great TV. What innocent person will Shaq and Co. terrorize this week? Tune in to CBS to find out!

Lauren Theisen

There was definitely a part in Tracker where Tracker took off his shirt, presumably for Tracking purposes. I'm sure some other stuff happened too.

Kelsey McKinney

Theoretically, I should know what this show is about because I watch a lot of Paramount+ at this moment in my life and they have been showing these previews every single day. However, I don’t have a fucking clue. Tracker is maybe a show about a man who is infected with a disease that makes him traceable by everyone at all times. The Tracker (the dopey blond from This is Us) wants to use his powers/illness for good so now he tracks other people and maybe also animals. Someone needs to find the lost dogs. That’s the Tracker’s job. Also The Tracker is often in perilous danger. He hangs off the bed of trucks. This is probably because he has an enemy who wants to find him and CAN, because he is the tracker.

Luis Paez-Pumar

Tracker is the gritty origin story of Rexxar from World of Warcraft. The show follows Rexxar and his trusty companion Misha the bear as they walk slowly up and down one area of the world, accomplishing nothing except hiding from players who need to turn in a quest. We learn how Rexxar came to be stuck wandering the barren wasteland of Desolace, and in the season finale, we find out Misha is actually a spy sent to kill him. The show is cancelled two episodes into Season 2, after the bear actor who plays Misha tweets that vaccines make you glow in the dark, and therefore become too easy to track.

Sean Kuhn

CBS's Tracker (2024-) is set in the same universe as ABC's Revenge (2011-2015), now nearly a decade on. Justin Hartley reprises his role as Patrick Osbourne, the long-lost, hunky painter born to socialite Victoria Grayson. Mild Revenge spoiler: Patrick dearest now goes mononymously as "Tracker" on account of hacker The Fa1c0n erasing his birth records. (The astute observer will note that PATRICK OSBOURNE is an anagram of TRACKER BON PIOUS.) Tracker brings the tradecraft he honed in the course of locating his birth parents and his jarringly Oedipal mien to bear in helping the lost find and traverse their own fantasies.

Justin Ellis

Having grown up on an unhealthy diet of syndicated proto-cop shows from the '80s and '90s, I must believe that Tracker is some kind of half-man, half-Golden Retriever who goes from town to town (all of which look like either Simi Valley or greater Vancouver) sniffing out mysteries and putting a stop to injustice. He has a dry cool wit, a mysterious backstory involving a crucial and mysterious loss, and he loves a naughty snack from time to time. Because this is CBS I am guessing that while he is not a cop, and indeed does play by his own rules, his own rules and bearing are incredibly cop-like. Also, he probably knows the Fire Country guy? They both seem to run around with their shirts off a lot.

Every single day I deal with these people. Also, based on the episodes I've seen, Justin's assessment is pretty much entirely correct.

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