Time Travel TV Roundup #1: Timeless

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.


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.


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.


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.


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:

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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…



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.


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


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) :


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.)

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

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