I’ve reviewed some 21st century series here that have caught my eye: Fringe and Grimm each come on the heels of the X-Files, and that program, mostly well-written and acted, is also a solid part of beloved cult media.
As of this past fall, there’s a new non-superhero show. I think it has some promise, despite a few glaring flaws–mainly in the writing department. It took the Timeless braintrust a few episodes to clean up its paperwork, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
The premise of this new series is that someone has hijacked a secret time machine and an agency (maybe) of the government (maybe) has recruited a team of three people to chase down someone who seems intent (maybe) on changing the past so as to damage the United States in the present. I write “maybe” because like Alias I’m not sure everything’s on the up-and-up here.
I’m up to episode five, and I can outline the plusses and minuses so far. As for the former, the series braintrust has chosen to develop a small ensemble cast of three. This is smart. One of the problems with recent Star Trek series is that they’ve started out with a large ensemble cast and they don’t always know what to do with them. It might even be cheaper for payroll purposes. Compares favorably to Grimm (two), Fringe (three), and the even The Big Bang Theory (who started with three). It’s not a new dynamic between two men and a woman, but it strikes me as a good one here.
The premise is total fantasy (time travel is an impossibility), and the writers have picked up on a big falsehood where it’s concerned. That’s a self-imposed strait-jacket of “You can’t meet yourself in the past.” There’s no magic thing about that that will result in the universe blowing up or the person returning to the present inside-out. If time travel were possible, a person could meet themselves in the past. No consequences other than changing history for the past-person in a new universe in which the two of them existed at the same time at least long enough to meet and at least one of them scratch a head in wonder.
Newbies in science fiction writing misunderstand the genre, and often drop something strange and illogical into the mix. It’s happened in all the shows. Grimm handles it the best. Timeless a bit less. One amusing thing they cleaned up after episode three was the paper. When a time capsule leaves the lab, it sucks some of the air into the space where the ship used to be. That makes sense.
My wife got annoyed when I was asking aloud, “Where are your paperweights?” After each time capsule departure, paper flew in the control room. You’d think with an effect like that in a science lab, people would have long ago determined it’s better to keep paper copy in the filing cabinets, securing them from flying into some electrical connection and starting a fire. this is the 21st century, after all: since when do scientists have this much paper?
Episode five finds the heroes following the hijacker to San Antonio in 1836. The “military” guy is tasked with capturing or killing the hijacker has failed to achieve his mission in episodes one through four. To make sure he doesn’t miss this time, he sneaks two hand grenades back to the Alamo. This is not to help the Texans win, but to make sure his target gets whacked on his watch.
Problem is, there’s already a change in history. General Santa Anna is attacking early, and he’s not letting the women and children out. One of them is the future first mayor of San Antonio, and another gets a letter out to the press which galvanizes the Texans for independence. It takes the team almost thirty minutes of air time to solve a problem perfect for grenades. Story editors should catch bits like that. That’s why tv has teams, not just for padding payroll.
Otherwise, it was an emotional and partly inspiring show, and I’m not even from Texas. Too bad, really. If this show goes into cancellation, it will probably be on the writers. This is a tough area to explore, traveling in time. These scripts need to get smarter. Conspiracy and menace aren’t enough.
There’s one very intriguing aspect I’ve never before seen or read in the time travel sub-genre. When the travelers return from the past, things are different for them in their “changed” future. Lucy, the college history prof finds her younger sister never existed,, and her parents never married. So she comes to a realization about a father she never knew in the original universe. And at the end of another episode, there’s a fiancé she didn’t have at the start of episode one. Wyatt is a widower and in his travels, tries to warn off his wife from events that led to her death. Not only is the hijacker (they call him a “terrorist”) changing history, but so is the team.
If any readers are left out there still reading, and watching this show, let me know. What are you seeing?