‘Tracker’ Is a Completely Different Kind of Television Procedural

Estimated read time 8 min read

The Big Picture

  • Tracker
    combines familiar procedural elements with a fresh storyline led by Colter Shaw, solving mysteries across the country.
  • Justin Hartley shines in a new role as Colter Shaw, balancing charm with a deeper sense of empathy as he navigates each case.
  • While deviating from the original novel’s storyline,
    keeps audiences engaged with ongoing mysteries and character development.

For decades, procedurals have told the stories of first responders, law officers, and lawyers, solving crimes in big cities as only they know how. Franchises like Law & Order, NCIS, and CSI have thrived off these sorts of shows and built television empires that don’t look to be going anywhere. But every once in a while, a new take on a familiar formula gets people’s attention, and CBS’s latest hit drama series Tracker fits the bill perfectly.

Tracker TV Show Poster


Colter Shaw travels the country in his old-school RV to help police and private citizens solve crimes and locate missing persons until his latest case changes everything.

Release Date February 11, 2024

Creator Ben H. Winters

Cast Justin Hartley , Lee Tergesen , Oscar Chark , Eric Graise , Fiona Rene , Wendy Crewson

Seasons 2

‘Tracker’ Is a New Take on a Familiar Formula

There’s nothing wrong with loving a good procedural. Often, these shows excel at long-form character growth and development and engage audiences weekly with creative mysteries and crimes that somehow don’t feel entirely stale. In a world full of serialized entertainment where it can become impossible to miss (or catch up on) an episode, these shows are familiar and can draw you back in after years away. While only in its freshman season, Tracker looks to be doing that same thing with Justin Hartley at the helm as “rewardist” Colter Shaw, solving missing persons and murder cases around the country, beginning in the Pacific Northwest and Mountain West regions, before moving eastward.

Not only does Colter go to places most cop shows won’t, but he’s surrounded (albeit, mostly digitally) by allies who don’t feel like they’re overstepping or congesting the space. While some shows can feel too much like a team effort, Colter relies on his faithful friends while doing all the dirty work and heavy lifting himself. Many of the cases involve missing persons, but sometimes that basic idea overlaps with white-collar crime, mountain-based cults, and even murderous drug rings. Although the show has yet to get us there, Colter mentions that he’s often helped folks find things that are missing as well as people. Tracker certainly overlaps with some basic cop drama elements (plus, Colter is often getting in trouble with the law), but it generally stays away from the classic tropes, instead pushing our hero to find results outside the law.

As shows like The Rookie produce a new take on an old cop-centered idea, Tracker is different because it removes the cop element almost entirely, focusing on a drifter who helps those in need. It’s more akin to Highway to Heaven than Magnum P.I., though don’t expect to see any angels here. Of course, Tracker is still a show that’s finding its footing, hoping to better balance its cast of five characters and spread out different sorts of “rewardist” opportunities. Thankfully, the show still has plenty more episodes to figure all that out.

Justin Hartley Delights as Colter Shaw on ‘Tracker’

tracker-season-1-episode-3-justin-hartley-social-feature Image via Michael Courtney/CBS

Whether you know him from This Is Us, his time as the first live-action Green Arrow on Smallville, or perhaps even his soap opera days, Justin Hartley proves himself a valuable television actor again here on Tracker. Hartley embodies Colter Shaw well, and the way he handles the character is unlike his previous leading roles. Sure, that trademark Hartley smile and charming way about him is ever-present with Colter as it was with Oliver Queen or Kevin Pearson, but this time around, there’s a sadness to his character that is different from what he’s played before.

Colter Shaw is one of those characters that it’s easy to root for but hard to get close to. That’s Reenie’s (Fiona Rene) experience, anyway. As audience members, we’re privy to more information about Colter’s past than most, but we still don’t have all the facts. Heck, not even Colter seems to have his full life’s story figured out. But no matter the case, what makes him different from other bounty hunters or thrill seekers in the Tracker world is that he genuinely cares about those he’s paid to protect, save, or recover. In each episode, there’s a part of Colter that feels the pain of those whom he’s been paid a large sum to help, and while you might think that’s just a false empathy that he puts whenever “on the job,” we get a distinct feeling that if this weren’t his chosen profession, he might offer up his help anyway.

Part of what makes Hartley the perfect casting choice for this type of role is the swagger that a person like Colter Shaw must have to insert himself into the lives of others. As a drifter who moves his impressive camper from town-to-town and place to place, he has to be just charming enough to convince others that he’s harmless while also digging deep into the personal lives of folks generally from a small town. Think of the roadshow element of a series like Supernatural but without any of the paranormal strings attached.

‘Tracker’ Deviates from the Books, But Shrouds Its Hero in Mystery

If you didn’t know, the concept behind Tracker, and the entire character of Colter Shaw, actually derives from the mystery thriller novel The Never Game by Jeffrey Deaver. Deaver may be known best for his Lincoln Rhyme books (the basis for Denzel Washington‘s The Pelican Brief), but Colter Shaw is a fresh new addition to his collection of literary heroes who is perfect for a television adaptation. But while The Never Game (which was also the show’s original title) is the foundation of the Tracker series, it’s taken some liberties with the source material. Instead of following the exact case described in the novel, Tracker takes Colter Shaw and puts him into the traditional network procedural format, which changes the game.

Graduating from the Longmire school of book-to-screen adaptations rather than a direct adaptation such as Reacher, Tracker is able to tell its own story in its own time. But just because Colter Shaw takes things on a case-by-case basis doesn’t mean there aren’t elements from the book, such as Colter’s mysterious upbringing, that don’t find their way into the show. In fact, Tracker’s serialized plotline, focused on the murder of his father (presumably caused by his older brother), is a major mystery that keeps Colter moving. “We’re all looking for something,” is what our plucky hero notes on a few different occasions (also serving as the series’ tagline), and for our protagonist, that something connects all back to his messed-up family past.

While the mystery is still unraveling itself, with more and more strange flashbacks to Colter’s teenage years and plenty of unanswered phone calls from his estranged brother, Tracker isn’t going to give us the answers that easily. Thankfully, a show like this keeps enough attention on the weekly adventure that the over-arching narrative feels more like background noise that will one day fade into the main chorus. Maybe down the line, other cases from Jeffrey Deaver’s Colter Shaw collection of novels will be adapted to the screen, but until then, we’ll wait patiently for more.

‘Tracker’ Has Already Been Renewed for Season 2

After airing only a short handful of episodes, with the “Pilot” premiering directly after the Super Bowl, Tracker has already been renewed for a second season by CBS, who also uploads the show to Paramount+ every week. With over 18 million viewers tuning in for the debut episode, the show has averaged about 6-7 million every other week, not likely accounting for all those (like this author) who watch it the next day on Paramount’s streaming platform. But this is good news for the compelling network drama that continues to prove to us just why Justin Hartley has been leading man material since day one (too bad that Aquaman series never got picked up).

Hartley himself also doubles as an executive producer on Tracker and has been thrilled to get the chance to bring The Never Game to the screen from the get-go. “When I read the book, I was immediately drawn to the character and the story,” Hartley told Deadline when the project was first announced back in 2022. “Developing this project with [executive producer and director Ken Olin] has been a true labor of love. Colter is going to kick some serious ass, and I can’t wait for audiences to meet him.” Now that we’ve met him, it’s easy to see just why Hartley was so excited to introduce us to this new CBS hero. Hopefully, he’ll be sticking around these parts for quite a while.

Tracker airs on Thursdays on CBS and can be streamed exclusively on Paramount+.

Watch on Paramount+