Without a Trace

Common Sense Media says

Predictible crime drama for older teens only.





What parents need to know

Positive messages

While the main characters are humanly flawed and deal with problems like adultery and substance abuse, they're on the side of justice. The cast is multicultural; recurring female characters are generally portrayed as strong and capable. An occasional character is disabled.


Violence varies from episode to episode. FBI agents carry and sometimes use guns and engage in tense stand-offs, but blood is minimal.


Some minor sexual activity: Characters wake up in bed together, and the main characters engaged in adultery but were remorseful. Plots sometimes revolve around sexual themes, like prostitution or pornography.


Some adult language in certain episodes, but not generally noticeable.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

The main character was addicted to painkillers. Another recurring character may have a drug abuse problem, but drug use has serious repercussions on the show. Plots may involve drugs, but not without consequences.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this crime drama deals with sensational topics, many of which involve children and teens, such as abduction, molestation, child pornography, and infanticide. The regular characters also struggle with adult topics like adultery, divorce, addiction, and serious health problems, which may upset sensitive young viewers.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

WITHOUT A TRACE follows the small team of FBI investigators on the Missing Persons Squad who step in when someone disappears mysteriously. Knowing that every second counts in an abduction, the crew works quickly to chart the missing person's activities during the previous 24 hours. This involves interviewing friends and family, checking into the person's financial and personal records, and searching for any clues that might reveal the circumstances of the disappearance. Storylines also explore team members' personal lives, such as division leader Jack Malone's (Anthony LaPaglia) divorce, the office romance of Samantha Spade (Poppy Montgomery) and Martin Fitzgerald (Eric Close), and the health scare of Vivian Johnson (Marianne Jean-Baptiste).

Is it any good?


This procedural drama follows a similar formula to many crime investigation shows and bears the slick, fast-paced mark of Jerry Bruckheimer, who produces this show as well as the popular shows CSI and Cold Case. Though Without a Trace's producers have clearly made attempts to deepen the show's characters, the show itself, while dark, stays pretty close to the surface. The storylines are predictably sensational, involving child abductions, accidental infanticide, and teen sex rings.

Moderate violence, sexual themes, and drug use with repercussions definitely make Without a Trace a show for older viewers. But even more distressing to young folks might be the storylines, which often involve children in disturbing situations, such as being snatched from their nanny, or dying from experimental medicine.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the rare nature of the cases that the show's team investigates. Under what circumstances do most people go missing? How safe do kids feel? Is there anything families can do to make everyone feel safer?

TV details

Cast:Anthony LaPaglia, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Poppy Montgomery
TV rating:TV-14
Available on:DVD, Streaming

This review of Without a Trace was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Adult Written byElleEmanuelle April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age

Terrific Show

Without a Trace is one of the best shows on television, perhaps the best show on CBS. Without a Trace is a fast-paced and compelling crime-drama, but differently from CBS’s big three CSI’s. Without a Trace is character-driven with the storyline often secondary to the characters interaction with that particular storyline. One of Without a Trace’s most interesting aspects is the depth with which it explores the lives and feelings of its main characters, all of whom are interesting human beings with shortcomings as well as virtues. This is truly an ensemble show with each member of the cast playing an integral role in the plot. Nicely cemented by Anthony LaPaglia’s Jack Malone, the show achieves a gravitas or weight that the CSI’s lack. The show also achieves a level of compassion for the victim that the cold hard science of the three CSI shows have difficulty achieving. Also interesting is the shows format, unlike in the CSI’s where you have a body and must work to discover why, in Without a Trace the action is spurred by the absence of a body, a possible victim who in the beginning is essentially a blank slate, however, by the episodes end, becomes as well known to us as a friend or colleague. Without a Trace is an exceptional drama with thought-provoking plot lines and likable characters. Highly recommended for those thirteen/fourteen and up.
Educator and Parent Written byJared Galczynski May 31, 2014

Without a Trace, but with a Mayra.

AY MAYRA. AY AY MAYRA. Maybe a little sex & violence, but not over the top. Without A Trace is a really good show overall.
Teen, 15 years old Written bybobbeta30 February 22, 2011


I L.O.V.E this show! I usually hate shows with scary stuff like this, but this one is usually quite tame in comparison to other shows. And another thing I love is that in other shows, they don't show how terrible crimes affect the investigators, but this show is very emotional and realistic.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Great role models


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