by Lew Ritter
One of the new series I looked forward to the most this fall is TIMELESS.
All summer, I watched the trailers featuring scenes of the Hindenburg disaster. The Hindenburg was a giant dirigible airship that exploded above Lakehurst, New jersey in 1937. I am an avid history buff, and the prospect of a show in which the main characters travel through time to battle a master criminal out to alter human history seemed to me to be “appointment television.”
Several TV shows have, of course, utilized the idea of time travel as a basis for their premise. A similar show currently running is LEGENDS OF TOMORROW. It also shares a similar concept of heroes preventing a villain from destroying the world.
The main character in LOT has rounded up a group of super heroes who must change history to prevent the villain from destroying the world of the future. Its problem is that it is a visual comic book populated with a large cast of one dimensional super heroes with no television backstory and a ludicrous comic book villain named Vandal Savage.
One of the most interesting shows was the mid-1960s series TIME TUNNEL, which can now be found on various nostalgia channels. TIME TUNNEL was created by Irwin Allen, the man responsible for the camp classic sci-fi show LOST IN SPACE.
TT started with the premise of two scientists leaping into a U.S. government called – of course – the Time Tunnel. They scientists leapt into its vortex and were propelled into different time periods each week. The first episode had the pair landing on the decks of the Titanic, where the hero tried vainly to warn the captain about the upcoming iceberg.
At the end of the pilot, the scientists found themselves in another time vortex, unable to return home, and from that point each week they randomly became enmeshed in different historical events. The heroes remained one dimensional characters during its one season run.
Even though the show’s on-air time was limited, it managed to get worse and worse, rapidly becoming the kind of series where one week the heroes would meet Helen of Troy, then the next week encounter space aliens at the Battle of Gettysburg, all with no trouble communicating. In short, it quickly became ridiculous.
When I first sat down to watch TIMELESS I found myself wondering if it would remain credible or crash and burn like it’s 60’s predecessor. The P.R. for TIMELESS, like TT, was going to be government project and stressed that the series was going to explore different historical events every week.
This did not seem to bode well.
The pilot, however, assuaged my fear. For one thing, TIMELESS has invested a lot of screen time developing the main characters backstories’ to make them more like real people.
Wyatt (Matt Lanter) the ex -special forces guy has lost his wife to an accident. More than anything, he wants a way to restore the past and prevent her from dying.
Lucy (Abigail Spenser) the historian suffers from the ‘Butterfly Effect.” At the beginning of the pilot, her mother is dying of cancer and she has a younger sister. When she returns from the first mission, the mother is in great health, but the sister has never existed.
Rufus (Malcolm Barrett), the project’s brilliant engineer, has family issues and seems to have ties to, Rittenhouse, the mysterious cabal that threatens the entire project, and perhaps the entire world as well.
Since the pilot, the episodes have been intriguing. Our heroes have witnessed the fall of the Alamo, Lincoln’s Assassination, and taken a trip back to the French & Indian War. Future episodes are set to involve the Moon Landing, Gangsters Bonnie and Clyde, and Benedict Arnold.
The best episode so far has been one dealing with the Watergate Tapes. Watergate was the political scandal that brought down President Nixon. The team goes back to 1972 to recover the tape containing the infamous eighteen minute gap and discovers that the gap talked about the Rittenhouse group.
In a personal twist, events in the story cause Lucy to wonder about her father, who abandoned her family when she was very young. At the end of the Watergate episode, she visits the home of the missing father and discovers that he is Cahill, (John Goetz), the mysterious man behind the Rittenhouse group.
Most interesting is Goran Vidjvic who plays Garcia Flynn, an ex NSA operative who is the good guys’ nemesis. He starts off as a typical villain, who killed his wife, stole a time machine, and headed into the past, changing history whenever he can.
However, as the series progresses conflicting aspects of his backstory emerge and we’re forced to wonder. Did he have good reason to steal the time machine. Is he a villain or the real hero? This is the kind of development that keeps me coming back for more.
The most promising aspect of the show, and the one that makes it unlikely it will suffer the TIME TUNNEL Syndrome is that the show runners Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke. Both are veteran show runners with proven track records.
In order to get the series on the air, Ryan and Kripke had to develop potential story arcs that could run five years. In the course of that, they have developed compelling characters and a mysterious, many-layered foe in the Rittenhouse Group, which appears to control whole governments and/or perhaps the entire world.
So far, TIMELESS has been a critical success and has been holding its own in the ratings. It is a historically driven sci-fi that is engaging and fun to watch. I’m definitely rooting for it to be picked up for next season.
Lew Ritter is a TVWriter™ Contributing Writer. Learn more about him here.