- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2004

“Traffic,” premiering at 9 tonight, is a six-hour USA miniseries “inspired” by the Academy Award-winning Steven Soderbergh film of the same name based on a British miniseries. No matter its antecedents, this “Traffic” stands very nicely on its own.

In fact, this “Traffic,” with completely new settings and characters, may well be one of the best programs you’re likely to find on television these days. This third-generation telling of the tale still centers on the international drug trade. The setting has moved from Mexico and Ohio to Afghanistan and Seattle (Vancouver subbing for the American city), but in this case the miniseries expands to explore all manner of illegal trafficking, and uncovers new and disturbing areas.

The prime thread picks up on a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) field agent (Elias Koteas) trying to track heroin from the poppy fields near Kabul to the United States — lots of high action here — crossed with wife (excellent Mary McCormack) and teen-age son adjusting to life in Seattle while being unnervingly stalked by the DEA. Throw in a genuinely moving story of a Chechen immigrant taxi driver (Cliff Curtis) seeking answers after his wife and daughter die when a boat smuggling illegal aliens sinks.

Wound into the plot you also have a young, ambitious MBA inheriting his father’s almost-bankrupt garment business and getting involved in corruption. As he is told, “In this business, you have to cut corners and hold your nose while doing it.” The price of holding his nose will ultimately be more than a grand office in a prime piece of real estate is worth.

When bodies begin turning up in Puget Sound and the ominous threat of smallpox smuggling emerges, the whole drama takes on a disturbing similitude to, as one of the characters puts it, “the real world.” The show seems all too convincingly real.

Writer-producer Ron Hutchinson has successfully retained the most important part of “Traffic’s” character — the knack of setting forth all these storylines on separate tracks and then bringing them charging toward one another with terrifying force.

Yes, it does take a little time for you to sort out these tangled plotlines, but they all do sort out and you’re not going to regret the challenge “Traffic” sets for you. You won’t regret the wait, as there’s a neat twist at the end.

The cinematography, incidentally, couldn’t be more handsome. Frankly, it looks more like a big-budget movie than your usual television fare.

The remaining two parts air tomorrow and Wednesday evening. Not a bad idea to set your VCR, as you may well want to travel through “Traffic” again.

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