Editor’s Note: this review is spoiler-free! Enjoy!
Gosh, you guys: why do us nerds have to be the finger on the pulse of a nation? After the mainstream realized we were right about comic books and superheroes and anti-heroes, it seems they’ve found the next one of our interests to obsess upon: time travel. With the success of series like Outlander, Doctor Who, 12 Monkeys, and even Rick and Morty, it seems like more traditional networks are getting hip to the idea of skipping in and around time, with NBC coming out with their own version of time travel adventure on TV: Timeless, which premieres on Monday, October 3 at 10 p.m..
First thing’s first: this is popcorn television, where bombastic goofiness is the name of the game, and entertainment definitely wins over the science of it. If you’re looking for really complicated, riveting time travel: go watch 12 Monkeys or Rick and Morty. Do your mom and aunt and grandparents want to watch something together as a family? Throw this on and worry not about anyone being able to follow along (or a bunch of Rick’s burping grossing everyone out). Your family will no doubt love series stars Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, and Malcolm Barrett—and they’ll definitely LOVE ER‘s Goran Visnjic showing up, tackling big bad duties this season. It also features a veritable smorgasbord of fantastic character actors in supporting roles, including Paterson Joseph, Sakina Jaffrey, and Claudia Doumit. You’ll find quickly that showrunners Eric Kripke (Supernatural) and Shawn Ryan (The Shield) have nailed the freewheeling tone of this procedural.
The show centers around three unwitting time travelers—history buff Lucy (Spencer), former soldier Wyatt (Lanter), and scientist Rufus (Barrett)—as they are tasked with catching a mysterious bad guy named Garcia Flynn, a man hellbent on changing the past, seemingly for the worse. Perhaps the most surprisingly notable thing about the Timeless pilot is its unwillingness to disregard Rufus’ race and the effect that it would have on the people in the eras they visit. Because, duh. But also, given this a network show, it’s about time.
Identity has never been network TV’s favorite thing to dissect, traditionally shying away from discussing race, sex, or gender in any fashion beyond the throwaway joke or a schmaltzy afterschool special-type moment. Despite the mind-bogglingness of not addressing things that actively affect the way a person operates in the world, it’s traditionally been so much easier (and more palatable to a wider—read: whiter—audience) to eschew the discussion altogether, as if the world wouldn’t push back against “otherness.” But here’s the thing: if you’re going back to the past, it better freakin’ act like the past. Though it remains to be seen if Timeless will use Rufus to become a one-note comic relief/social commentary, we’re hopeful that a particularly mysterious subplot with him will turn that bit around some more. And good on NBC/Kripke/Ryan for at least trying, if nothing else.
The show zigs and zags with a boundless sort of enthusiasm that’s easy to like, an interesting juxtaposition to the myriad other time travel shows that seem to take the rules of defying physics as we currently know it. But that’s what makes it so enjoyable: it’s not as serious as 12 Monkeys or intricate as Doctor Who. It’s a Quantum Leap for a modern time—and sometimes that’s exactly what you need. More than anything, Timeless is the exact sort of historical time travel caper you’d want and expect from a network studio (even if it feels like something that would’ve probably done a bit better for them several years ago, before time travel became the new “it” conceit for television). It’s big, audacious, isn’t bogged down by the theoretical physics of traveling through time, and full of nostalgia-laced fun.
3 out of 5 burritos from the past: