‘Timeless’ Shoulda Been Better

Time Travelers Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, and Malcolm Barrett of NBC's Timeless.
Time-travelers Malcolm Barrett, Abigail Spencer, and Matt Lanter of NBC’s Timeless.

by Doug Snauffer

I really expected more from NBC’s Timeless.  I’ve always been a big fan of time-travel stories, and so apparently is Timeless co-creator Eric Kripke (Supernatural, Revolution).  He revealed in a recent interview that inspiration for his latest creation can be traced back to such programs as Voyagers! (NBC, 1982-83) and Quantum Leap (NBC, 1989-93).  That was enough to sell me.

Until, that is, I viewed the pilot for Timeless (NBC, Mondays, 10 pm).  

The first episode played like a two-hour movie that had been hastily edited in half.  Just seven minutes into the premiere episode, three strangers had already been assembled, introduced to a secret time-travel project, given the run-down on their first assignment, attired in appropriate 1930s apparel, and strapped into the giant eyeball-shaped contraption that would carry them back to 1937 to the sight of the Hindenburg disaster.

Whatever happened to character development?  To those two-hour pilots where we got to know the people we were being asked to care about and root for?  (I’d even settle for a 90-minute movie of the week.)

The time travelers of NBC's Timeless arrive in 1937.
The time travelers of NBC’s Timeless arrive in 1937.

The team consists of history professor Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer, Oz, The Great and Powerful), military-man Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter, Ultimate Spider-Man), and mysterious “coder” Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett, Hurt Locker).  

We’re also briefly introduced to the creator of the project, Anthony Bruhl (Matt Frewer, Orphan Black);  he’s the kind of cliched, eccentric scientist we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in these types of productions.  But we learn nothing about the man and only basic exposition about his time-travel project.

TIMELESS -- "Pilot" -- Pictured: (l-r) Abigail Spencer as Lucy Preston, Malcolm Barrett as Rufus Carlin, Matt Lanter as Wyatt Logan -- (Photo by: Joe Lederer/NBC)
The heroes of NBC’s Timeless.

The key bit of info is this: Characters can only travel back to years before their own births, and the team can only visit a time period once.  This way they don’t risk the chance of running into themselves.  An earlier traveler did just that, and only part of him returned to the present.

I have a feeling this also excuses the producers from dealing with such issues as 9/11 or the nightclub shooting in Orlando last June.

The concept behind Timeless is pretty basic:  the team has to track a stolen time-ship through bygone days and prevent the thief, Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic, ER,  Extant), from changing history for his own diabolical purposes.  

An interesting idea, but hardly original.  It’s been used often in both films and TV:  from director Nicholas Meyer’s 1979 sci-fi feature Time After Time, which had H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) pursuing Jack the Ripper (David Warner) through time, from Victorian London to 1979 San Francisco, to TV series like Voyagers! (rogue Voyager Drake), Quantum Leap (the Evil Leaper, Alia), and even the regrettable Galactica 1980 (renegade Commander Xavier).

Goran Visnjic as Garcia Flynn, the villain of NBC's Timeless.
Goran Visnjic as Garcia Flynn, the villain of NBC’s Timeless.

The team has to be careful not to change history themselves while preventing the villains from doing so.  But I think we can expect history to take quite a beating all the same.  Each time the team returns to the present, they have to face the ramifications of their actions in the past.

On this first trip, when Lucy got back home, she found that her mother, who had been gravely ill, was now in great health.  Her joy was short-lived, however, when she discovered that her younger sister no longer existed.

At the end of the premiere, Flynn has a brief discussion with Lucy.  He asks whether she’s aware of why she was chosen for the project.  He’s also in possession of a journal written by Lucy’s future self.

This raises some interesting questions.  How are Flynn and Lucy connected in the future?  And with so little information provided about the time travel project, can we really be sure who the good guys and bad guys really are?

Flynn confronts Lucy as the Hindenburg burns in the distance.
Flynn confronts Lucy as the Hindenburg burns in the distance.

Timeless isn’t a bad show.  But it’s also not a good one.  

The program faces a myriad of problems.  For one, it needs a little humor.  This isn’t a medical show, it’s not set in an ER or a court room.  It’s science fiction and fantasy.  It should be solid but entertaining and fun, too.  Kripke and co-creator Shawn Ryan (The Shield) are capable of better.

Douglas Snauffer is an Ohio-based freelance writer. His work has appeared in myriad publications and on SyFy Channel and includes several cult horror films and the books The Show Must Go On and Crime Television. Check him out on IMDB.