Time Travel TV Roundup #3: Frequency

frequency

Before you proceed, SPOILER WARNING.  Some of my review will give away some plot twists.

She’s a New York City detective in 2016.  He’s an undercover cop in 1996 – and her father! With the help of a Magic Ham Radio, they fight crime!

This is a show meant for adults the CW.

I’M THE DOCTOR

Frank is the undercover cop. He was killed in 1996 after a drug deal gone bad. His daughter, Raimy, took up the family business with a huge chip on her shoulder about her dad.  She’s been told her dad was dirty (and we learn all this with narration uh oh right before we smash cut to “72 hours earlier” are you fucking kidding me UH OH).

Frank and Raimy reconnect with a ham radio that can transmit through time.  They’re good guys, so they use this power to fight crime.*

WIBBLY-WOBBLY, TIMEY-WIMEY

A ham radio attached to a homemade antenna in 2016 is struck by lightning, which makes it communicate with the same ham radio back in 1996.

According to the show itself: the lightning  made the ham radios quantum entangled, experiencing what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.”

I’m not kidding, they say this in the show.

Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, would you care to weigh in?

…thank you, Dr. Tyson.  Very helpful.

Let’s just say this is not how “spooky action” or quantum physics or electricity works.  Let’s also say it would make more sense if our heroine just got the ham radio from a witch in the forest.

BIGGER ON THE INSIDE

Uh boy.  In the lead-up to writing this review, I’d forgotten I’ve got a whole section where I have to say something nice.

David Tennant? Little help?

…thank you, Mr. Tennant.

Well.  Everybody in this show, man… they’re trying.  I’ll give them that.  And if you like top ten hits from the nineties, BOY IS THIS THE SHOW FOR YOU.

Wait, there’s a bit I liked:

In the 90’s, when Frank took his undercover assignment, he set up a secret dead-drop with Raimy so he can still give her birthday presents.  When Raimy’s in 2016 and hears Frank over the Magic Ham Radio, she’s a bit skeptical (naturally).  To prove the Ham Radio is Magic, Frank puts a picture of himself in the dead-drop in 1996, and Raimy digs it up in 2016.  It’s actually a nice bit.

SMALLER ON THE OUTSIDE

After my last review, we had a Facebook discussion involving suspense of disbelief.  Sure, these are time travel shows, and that’s already a ridiculous premise.  Science tells us that time travel is practically impossible – not to mention the fact that we’ve never met time travelers.**

But hey, I’m a big fan of that show about the flying phone booth, and that show about the cowboy robots, and that show about a demon-making cookbook.***  All these shows have ridiculous premises that I’m on board with.  Because within, say, a show where a talking horse and his human roommate go on adventures,**** there’s narrative consistency.

In Frequency, an undercover cop gets on a ham radio to talk to strangers and uses his real name.

Yeeeah.

This show is jam-packed with characters acting like idiots and crazy people.  Especially Frank.

First thing that happens once Raimy and Frank believe each other: Raimy warns Frank that he’s about to die… and he doesn’t believe her.

Well, it turns out he hides a gun at the meet in case something goes south (and he knows the exact alley in a shipyard where they’re going to execute him, somehow). He doesn’t tell Raimy any of this because DRAMA. Of course, he comes off looking like a heartless crazy person, but hey DRAMA.

Anyway, Frank lives and now in 2016, Raimy’s mom (Julie) is dead because of course she is.

Raimy tells past-Frank that Julie’s gonna get murdered, so Frank tries to keep Julie from leaving the house. After multiple scenes where Frank makes his estranged wife think he’s a paranoid crazy person, he finally takes her to the garage to talk to future-Raimy on the Magic Ham Radio.  There’s no answer – not because Raimy’s not sitting at the Magic Ham Radio (she is), but because she got mad at Frank a few scenes earlier for no reason.

Award winning producer and master of script construction Tina Fey – anything you’d like to add?

…exactly, Ms. Fey.

There are more examples.  This section got a severe edit.

Yeeeeah.

PHONEBOOTHS

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I’m a big fan of sci-fi. I particularly love time travel shows. I put my layman’s scientific knowledge aside when watching, because most of the time… well you just have to. But you do appreciate the show who assumes you’re an intelligent viewer who asks “wait, how did that happen?” and tries to give you an explanation you can live with – even if it’s “aliens did it.”*****

Frequency just assumes you don’t ask questions – such as, “wait, if Raimy gets new memories on top of her old memories every time they change the past, isn’t she gonna go crazy within four episodes?”
That’s because Frequency just assumes their target audience of 18-24 year-olds are a bunch of idiots.  But judging by the writing, I’d say their target audience is way smarter than they are.  And those viewers are gonna let the show know… by not coming back for the next episode.******

 

*Well, they’re TV good guys.  I think even real good guys would be telling 1996 to buy Apple stock.

**Nobody came from the future to warn us about Tuesday. PROOF TIME TRAVEL IS IMPOSSIBLE.

***Doctor Who, Westworld, and Ash vs. Evil Dead, respectively.

****BoJack Horseman.  OMG BOJACK HORSEMAN IS SO GOOD.

*****This is the go-to explanation in the Stargate shows for just about everything.  If you haven’t seen any of Stargate, you should.  It’s super fun. Start yourself off with Stargate SG-1‘s season 4 episode, “Window Of Opportunity”.  You’re welcome.

******I could be wrong.  I thought Vampire Diaries played like a 45 year-old Twilight fan with a learning disability wrote it, and that’s been going on for… HOLY SHIT EIGHT SEASONS!  Sometimes I don’t understand these kids.

Time Travel TV Roundup #2: Travelers

travelers

This is Showcase / Netflix’s entry to the genre.  Premiering soon on Netflix, now airing on Showcase in Canada.

I’M THE DOCTOR

Imagine what someone would make of your life based on nothing but your Facebook page.  What would they have right?  What would they miss?

Now imagine someone has to navigate your life – as you – with nothing to go on but your Facebook page.

And that’s life as a Traveler.

WIBBLY-WOBBLY, TIMEY-WIMEY

So you’re a Traveler.  You come from a post-apocalyptic future – but hey, you’ve got a time machine!  Great, you can go into the past and stop the apocalypse.  But there’s a catch:

  • The time machine only sends your mind into the past.
  • It only works if you can jump into a person from the past who’s about to die (these people are called “hosts.”)
  • The hope is that you’ll stop your host’s historically recorded time of death right before it happens. (I mean, happened. I think.)  At which point, the host’s mind is gone and yours takes over.

If you haven’t seen Doctor Who:  Now you know why “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” is the category title.*

BIGGER ON THE INSIDE

Travelers uses the ol’ “show, don’t tell” to explain its premise, which gets me on its good side right away.**  In the first four scenes, the main characters jump into their hosts as there’s a ticking clock on the screen marked “Recorded Time Of Death.”  One “jump” happens right before an attempted sexual assault, another interrupts a “domestic dispute” about to go very, very badly for the ex-wife.  So sometimes, these jumps-in – with the victim being replaced with an experienced fighter – are very satisfying.

But the real drama here isn’t the whole “save the world” plot (in fact, the whole “save the world” plot is glacially paced).  The fun is in watching the Travelers adjust to their hosts’ lives – especially since there’s been a few mistakes in the host selection process. For example, their tech genius is stuck in the body of a junkie.

Oops.

These things happen when the future only has old social media posts and the odd obituary to go on. There are some things that might be a BIG part of someone’s life that don’t merit public social media postings – like an enthusiasm for heroin.

SMALLER ON THE OUTSIDE

Travelers will live or die by its actors. If you don’t like watching all their little character beats and moments, you’re gonna lose interest pretty quickly. And unless you’re a big fan of Vancouver-filmed sci-fi, you’re not gonna see many familiar faces. The most well-known actor here is Eric McCormack (Will & Grace).**

And I’m gonna admit – I had to go back and watch the opening sequence again just to see how the whole time-travel dealie worked.  (I’ll also admit that I may have been a bit distracted with current events and bourbon when I watched the pilot the first time.)

PHONEBOOTHS

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This is character-driven lower-budget sci-fi in the best sense. It’s not aiming for big ratings in a comfy network timeslot, it’s aiming for a small audience of binge-watchers. And yes, binge-watching recommended on this one, it’ll help with the slow pacing.

*Really, seriously, if you’ve gotten two parts into some teeny website’s opinion articles about new time-travel shows and you haven’t watched Doctor Who… I’m wondering if you’re a unicorn or something.

 **This is a good exercise for when you’re trying out a new show: is the pilot showing you who these people are and what their world is like… or do they have someone telling you?  If you’re watching a pilot where one character starts explaining who all the other characters are, well… I hope you don’t like that TV show, ’cause it’s DOOMED. The producers stopped giving a shit before they even started filming.

***If you are a big fan of Vancouver-filmed sci-fi, you’re gonna be going “hey it’s that guy from that thing” every five minutes. And then you might go over to Eric McCormack’s Imdb page and realize he’s done a ton of things since Will & Grace that you’ve never seen or completely forgotten about.
Damn, Eric. You do good work, I think you need a better agent.

Time Travel TV Roundup #1: Timeless

timeless-tv-show-on-nbc-season-1-canceled-or-renewed-e1463361967783

What’s with all the Time Travel TV?

By my count, there are three new time travel series this season.  For some reason, a plurality of TV executives think their current viewership may like the idea of going back in time to change the past.

No idea why.

Anyway.

All three shows have been out for a month or so.  I’ve watched at least the first three eps, and I’m gonna be evaluating each on a set of criteria that will make little sense if you’ve never watched Doctor Who.*

So first we have Timeless, on NBC.

CRITERIA ONE:  I’M THE DOCTOR

A trio of TV stock characters (Plucky Ladydoctor, Discount Jack O’Neill and Black Nerd) chase a Bad Guy With An Accent (or BAGWAA) in a stolen time machine.

CRITERIA TWO:  THE WIBBLY-WOBBLY TIMEY-WIMEY

Time is linear and there is no branching off into parallel realities when you change things.  Watch out for that Butterfly Effect.  It’s a doozy.

BAGWAA is trying to change history for reasons unclear.  Our heroes are mostly competent, so BAGWAA’s plots are mostly foiled, but he always gets away and the heroes come back to find the world slightly changed for BAGWAA’s – or their own – interference.

CRITERIA THREE:  BIGGER ON THE INSIDE

I’m reminded a lot of Rewind, the aborted SciFi show that didn’ t go past the pilot.  Here, watch it if you’d like, it’s on the Youtubes.  You look like you could use some distraction today:

Timeless is a bit a different since the time machine goes with them. (In Rewind, it does not.)  They both have a beat-the-clock element, except in Timeless, their “timer” is the exact time and date of the historical event which Plucky Ladydoctor knows everything about – she’s an historian!  This is a step up from Rewind, in my opinion, where they just throw a bag clothes at Team Time Travel and say “good luck!”

Okay, I’m exaggerating.  But only a little.

Anyway, Timeless does a little River Song / Time Traveler’s Wife riff where BAGWAA has met our heroes’ future selves, and of course he has a “spoilers” moment with Plucky Ladydoctor. The riff is a bit overused in time travel fiction – but here they use it to show that maybe BAGWAA isn’t all B.

I really liked Black Nerd’s misgivings about time travel. I mean, if your business trip was to a place where you’d be 3/5ths of a person, you would probably have some serious reservations.

Also – Malcolm Barrett’s playing his exact same character from Better Off Ted. This is NOT a bad thing.  I miss Better off Ted.  Thank you, TV show.**

I like that they jettisoned the “using modern pop culture to make up names” cliche right after the pilot. Yeah sure, it’s funny watching Plucky Ladydoctor introduce Discount Jack as “Dr. Dre” once…

Once.***

CRITERIA THREE:  SMALLER ON THE OUTSIDE

There’s this narrative problem with all time travel fiction: here, let me illustrate the problem with a couple Timeless characters discussing their show’s premise with just a skosh more genre-savvy than they had on-screen:

Discount Jack: So a BAGWAA stole your time machine.

Machiavellian Genius Billionaire Who Is Naturally British: Yes.

Discount Jack: But you have a crappy spare time machine.

MGBWINB: Yes.

Discount Jack: And you want us to chase the bad guys around time in your crappy spare time machine.

MGBWINB:  Yes.

Discount Jack: (rubs temples) Okay, just spitballing here, but… why don’t we take the crappy spare time machine back to right before the BAGWAA stole your GOOD time machine?

Tough Ladyboss: We’re wasting time!

Discount Jack: No we’re not!  We CAN’T!  WE HAVE A TIME MACHINE! 

In reality, we get (and I’m paraphrasing) :

MGBWINB: Our spare time machine is only designed to find the good time machine.

Discount Jack: Time travel problems.

For some reason, I found that exchange unsatisfying.

Also, the pilot ended with a time travel cliché so worn out that another show I’m reviewing did the exact same thing.

PHONEBOOTHS (out of 5) :

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Overall, you’ve got a fairly by-the-numbers time-travel show that has room for improvement, but I remain cautiously optimistic. Malcolm Barrett could use the work (I’m pulling for you, buddy).

*You’ve never watched Doctor Who?  Stop reading this and GO, go to Amazon and start binge watching. I recommend starting with Series Five. From there, you might be tempted to go right to Series Six, but I’m gonna recommend you backtrack to Series Two so you can catch the David Tennant run. And if you’re enamored of Rose by then, go back to Series One. Or keep on going from Series Two and you’ll meet the Wonder That Is Martha Jones.

I added a lot to this footnote after Tuesday night.  I thought you might want  some guided distraction.
You’re welcome.

**Watch Better Off Ted too. You can stream it on Amazon, or get the DVDs (I KNOW, right?) on Netflix.  But for now, you can watch their filthy outtakes reel. (Also, you’ll be treated to a fine formula for expressing your feelings about what happened yesterday I’m sorry I shouldn’t have brought it up.)

***I feel bad about that last footnote, here have another distraction.