When the road itself becomes your destination, are you going anywhere at all? Some years back I read an article that claimed that at any given moment there are more people driving, working, eating and resting on America’s interstates than in many of America’s states. It described a transient 51st state in constant motion with a society and economy all its own. “Truck Stop, Missouri” (9 p.m., Travel) offers a peek at one such nondestination, a gas station emporium featuring 12 related businesses midway between St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., on Interstate 70.
Like any prodigal son, Joe Bechtold was having a grand time in Australia before he was called back to run the family’s truck stop. One gets the sense that he’s paying for some past transgression in this vehicular purgatory. But he makes the best of it.
During the course of the first “Truck Stop,” we meet the resident tattoo artist, whose parlor has become a favorite spot for folks who live in this corner of the world. One of his customers is a 77-year-old self-described biker chick eager to sport a new birthday tattoo. The owner of the truck stop’s antiques emporium meets a character who would not be out of place in Mayberry, who tries to pawn a $5 fishing pole for $50 by claiming that it’s enchanted and guaranteed to catch a fish. A huge cow gets loose in the parking lot and a couple of teenagers get chased off the premises for using their car for what used to be called a “petting parlor.”
There’s little doubt that “Truck Stop, Missouri” might yield great stories or even drama. But this is reality television, where all of the characters are “characters” in the sense of being quirky for a few seconds at a time but decidedly one-dimensional and undeveloped.
In a real drama, we’d get to know Joe as more than a talking head, and we’d learn what drove people to shop at a truck stop instead of a downtown. What motivates teenagers to have sex in a public parking lot in broad daylight? Where did that Snuffy Smith character with the fishing pole come from? Where is he going? Or is he, like his fishing pole, a magical illusion?
It would take a singular vision, and something called a script, to breathe some life into these potentially interesting figures.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Cat Deeley hosts two hours of “So You Think You Can Dance” (7 p.m., Fox).
• “Wonders of the Universe” (8 p.m., Science) ponders the human need for a sense of time.
• A festering wound on “Royal Pains” (8 p.m., USA).
• A once proud news division promotes superstition on “Primetime” (9 p.m., ABC).
• A haunted tycoon on “Necessary Roughness” (9 p.m., USA).
• A friendly rivalry on “Happily Divorced” (9:30 p.m., TV Land).
• An interview gets out of hand on “Rescue Me” (9 p.m., FX).
• A double-cross gets a woman “Locked Up Abroad” (9 p.m., National Geographic) in Thailand.
Medieval history gets a once-over in the 1975 comedy “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (9:05 p.m., IFC).