The last year or so has been heavily populated by the theme of time travel television shows. This isn’t anything new. Time travel has been a curious potential practice even before the advent of film and television, as evidenced in such historical novels as The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain.
And as a popular genre throughout television history, we have shows such as Dr. Who (current), Time Tunnels, 12 Monkeys (current), 7 Days, Time After Time (recently cancelled), and Making History (recently cancelled) that have shaped the images held by audience about the hope of time travel. Even more recently current long running serial shows incorporate time traveling some way, even if not directly: Sleepy Hollow (recently cancelled), Grim (recently cancelled), Frequency (recently cancelled), and Once Upon a Time (current).
Shows within the time travel genre seem, though, to have a tough time maintaining longevity. Many seem just lucky enough to complete a single first season. Few have a continuous and constantly recreated run, as with Dr. Who. Die-hard fans of time travel programs often remain nervous as they begin investment in any new television enterprise. This endured as especially true for fans of the Timeless, which airs on NBC.
Cancelled. Then Un-cancelled.
Timeless, starring Abigal Spencer, Matt Lanter, and Malcom Barrett as the time traveling team of Lucy Preston, Wyatt Logan, and Rufus Carlin. The show, like other shows in its genre across the networks was cancelled. Then, miraculously, NBC comes back just a few days later to cancel the cancellation, as though the network went forward in time and saw that this show should remain on air.
Seriously, though, what makes this particular show different from the other programs?
Of recent works, the show Making History attempted to take a comedic look at history. Its attempt lacked anything special, rather a constant moving of people around in history with seemingly little to no impact on the future. As a comedy, that lack of realism is not only expected but also warranted. It didn’t, however, remain as anything more than a cliché attempt at slapstick humor. Another recently cancelled show, Time After Time, was a retelling of Karl Alexander’s novel of the same name. Yes, it incorporated true history in the chase of Jack the Ripper, only through time rather than in his time. But it, too, seemed to fill a formula rather than tell a story. It lacked that something special needed to go the course.
Making it Timeless.
Timeless presents as a traditional time travel show where a team goes back in time to fix something gone awry. And while this remains true, the something extra they have rests first in the team and then in how that team goes about correcting history – with the hope of not making matters worse. The team consists of Lucy, an historian tasked with preserving history, Rufas, a scientist assigned with driving the machine and making repairs on the fly, and Wyatt, a soldier charged with protecting the mission and especially Lucy. There isn’t anything cute about their adorning themselves with era specific clothing and searching for Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic) through time. Garcia stole the prototype time travel ship to change history to right a wrong and destroy a secret agency known as Rittenhouse.
The problem with his mission, he keeps changing other aspects of history. This, of course, persists as a constant struggle with attempts at the time travel genre. With Timeless it works because they don’t proclaim to have any answers or know any rules. The only mission they have is to protect, as best as possible, the original time line.
That mission rests as the reality of the shows uniqueness: life has no rules. It reinvents itself constantly. This is how the show stays current – it reinvents itself each week. It tells a story that stands alone each week, but also fits into a bigger picture that no one single character seems to have all the pieces, which is how it should be.
Audiences revel in the strong acting and the believable storylines. In fact, Timeless doesn’t play out like a fiction story attempting to shape an altered history. Rather, it unfolds as a realistic portrayal of life in a cat and mouse game aimed at protecting America, and humanity in general.
The first season ended with surprising revelations that created more questions. The initial cancellation left fans un-satisfied with the outcome of the series. The decision of NBC to continue with the second season by un-cancelling the show elated fans. And honestly, as a network struggling for several years to improve their ratings, they made a good choice that can only benefit their future.
The time travel genre endures as a timeless representation of human ingenuity and the hope for a better tomorrow. If only we could go back in time and alter things for the better.
Feature image via NBC.