Joe Lederer / NBC

Should You Set An Alarm For Timeless?

NBC's latest attempt at sci-fi sends experts back in time to make sure history doesn't get all screwed up. Is it worth an hour of your time?

What Is This Thing?

A brilliant billionaire has built a couple of time machines. Bad people steal one and go back in time to mess with the historical timeline as we know it, so he -- in conjunction with Homeland Security -- recruits history professor Lucy Preston and Delta Force operative Wyatt Logan to follow them wherever they go and make sure things proceed the way they should. But...are the "bad people" really bad? And how else might the good guys' intervention change the world of the present?

When Is It On?

Mondays at 10 PM ET on NBC, starting October 3.

Why Was It Made Now?

In the past ten years or so, NBC has had one sci-fi hit: Heroes. But it just cannot stop chasing that follow-up despite our failure to embrace Bionic Woman, The Cape, The Event, Revolution, Journeyman, and Siberia. But THIS TIME FOR SURE.

What's Its Pedigree?

This time maybe? The series was co-created by Eric Kripke, whose Supernatural is about to embark upon its 35th season on The CW; his co-creator is Shawn Ryan, who had a solid critical hit with The Shield -- followed up by the surprisingly long-running Lie To Me, but who's had a string of one-season series since then (Terriers, The Chicago Code, Last Resort). The cast is full of familiar faces: Abigail Spencer (Mad Men, Rectify) plays Lucy; Matt Lanter (Heroes, Star-Crossed) plays Wyatt; billionaire Connor Mason is played by Paterson Joseph, most recently of The Leftovers, and Homeland Security agent Denise Christopher is played by House Of Cards and Mr. Robot alumna Sakina Jaffrey. Our lead bad guy OR IS HE -- Garcia Flynn -- is Goran Visnjic, formerly of ER and several other much crappier shows since then (ugh, Extant).

...And?

Let's discuss!

Our Players

Hello, I'm West Coast Editor Tara Ariano.
Hello, I'm David T. Cole.

The Talk

There are three science-fiction tropes that, when introduced into a show, make me reach for the remote, and they are: 1) Shapeshifting. 2) Omniscient characters 3) Time travel. I feel like they are all lazy writing devices that lets producers hand-wave all sorts of things away in an "a wizard did it" way. Those bother me when introduced into a running show, but here's Timeless going all in by starting with time travel from the get-go. So, does Timeless's time travel engage us or frustrate us?

I will say this for it: I appreciate that the show -- at least in the pilot -- didn't waste to much time trying to come up with some fakey explanation of how the time travel "works." We get the rules -- you can't go back to any time where you've ever been before or you might disintegrate on the trip back or something -- but other than that, it's basically treated as magic, which is what time travel always is anyway. But since the premise requires such a great suspension of disbelief right from the start, the show should try to to hook us with compelling characters. It succeeds the best there with Lem I MEAN RUFUS, the lab geek drafted to join the time travel Scooby gang and dubious about the whole enterprise: "I don't know how it works across the pond, but I am black. There's literally no place in American history that'll be awesome for me." I'm also interested in Mason, and I assume whatever shadowy project he and Rufus are secretly working on the side will be REAL evil.

Yep! If nothing else, this show is enjoyable as a sequel series to Better Off Ted where we see Lem's career in a post-Veridian Dynamics world: I like to call it The Further Adventures Of Lem Through Time And Space. I feel like the show's loose architecture allows me to do that and it makes Rufus just that much more enjoyable -- let's all get Lembasted! The two leads, more so Lucy, could stand to have a little more fun, though. If this is the Scooby gang, they are both Freds in the pilot. Rufus, is the African-American time traveller who -- to paraphrase him -- isn't going to benefit from going back in time in America, and he's still having the most fun.

I would say Lucy and Wyatt are Shaggy x 2, personally. Lucy's function is to know actual facts about history -- she immediately identifies then-famous female journalist Kate Drummond in a bar -- but she's used to academia, so she gets easily flustered by the action-y moments. In the pilot, those involve our heroes going back just before the crash of the Hindenburg, because Mason and Agent Christopher know that Garcia Flynn and Co. stole the primary time machine and went back there. (By the way, you've got a Croatian actor playing a guy with a Spanish first name and an Irish last name? Just call him Anatole Europe and save time.) But Wyatt -- who you'd think would be more chill given that he's military-trained -- is just as dippy: when he sees Kate he practically abandons the mission because she kind of looks like his dead wife. GET IT TOGETHER, WYATT, THERE ARE ROPES TO...GET MUDDY. OR SOMETHING.

So Anatole Europe™ steals a CBS logo time machine from the 2013 Apple store and sets about rewriting history for purposes yet unknown. He's the bad guy looking to undo America, or is he? What's that Mason guy up to? I felt like they were too proud of all the shades of grey they were setting up for a show that would pair very well with a Summer 2015 Zoo. I'm here to see that lion shoot Hitler.

Yeah, I'm not really seeing which elements of the show make it so expensive that it couldn't nestle in with all the networks' other garbagey scripted summer shows. For one thing, we know for sure that it was filmed in Vancouver as soon as That One Guy Who's In Every Show That Films There rolls up.

NBC

NBC

Hey buddy! Glad you booked another gig after they killed you off iZombie!

No, this is definitely summer fare. It's no Lost In Time. It's a perfectly enjoyable, brain-in-neutral show, but I don't know if it is going to be able to survive the fall competition. Of course, I say that not having seen the second episode, which is titled "The Assassination Of Abraham Lincoln," which one would hope sees Abe beat the shit out of Booth, creating some real WTF ripples in history that the show can double down on every few episodes. By the end of Season 1, I want a state called "Barry" whose chief export is yellow. That's the path to success, bonkers time travel fallout! The changes in the timeline after the pilot mission seemed too minor and too unrelated to the mission.

Erasing Lucy's sister from existence isn't that "minor" to Lucy? But I agree with you that there's no point doing this if the consequences don't get more and more outlandish. Maybe this could be 2016's answer to the random differences between the two universes on Fringe. Lucy should come back next time and find out Rufus's lab crush Jiya now has a goatee. (Evil!)

My question to you is, if this show is DGAF enough to go to the assassination of America's most beloved president in Episode 2, when do they get to Hitler? Before Thanksgiving?

Can you have a counter-history show without a Hitler assassination scene? Probably not. I feel like they are staying in America, though, so Hitler would have to come over here. Maybe for Henry Ford's birthday.

Timeless isn't bad; I just fear they will play it too safe and fail to get their hooks in the audience. Let's go for broke. Let's get America's favourite post-Atlantean invasion first family -- Cathy Lee Crosby and Number Five from Short Circuit -- up on Mount Rushmore.

I assume if that ever happens, you'll have to hear about it secondhand because this thing is far less entertaining than old Venture Bros. episodes and therefore you will never watch it again.

I'm not that down on it. I see potential in Timeless's Scooby gang. Smart showrunners are flexible, and I could see a future where the mix of leads is more fun, less Oh Dearie Me -- give it more Buffy flavour. If we're going to mess with history, let's put our waders on and mess with history. We can Fringe this thing up if we try.

Let me know how that works out!

Readers liked this episode
What did you think?

Discussion

Explore the Timeless forum or add a comment below.