Thursday, May 11, 2017

Time After Time, Timeless, and Frequency in the Dustbin of History

It's been a bad year for time travel series on network television.

Time After Time, based on the excellent Malcolm McDowell movie, barely made it out of the starting gate on ABC.

Frequency, based on one of the best time travel movies ever made, had a short run on the CW, and was recently canceled. *Noted added 18 May 2017: But CW posted a very satisfying little epilogue - details here.

Timeless, a big ticket series on NBC, learned its sad fate yesterday.  *Note added 14 May 2017: But NBC reversed its decision and renewed Timeless after all!  See here.

Although I had good things to say about all three series, I can't say I'm surprised that they didn't make it.  In fact, though I'm always up for seeing any time travel on television, I also had problems with all three.

Frequency had in principle the best story.   The idea of a father (a cop) hearing from his son, in the future, that the father will be killed, worked well as a father and daughter set-up in the television series.   These kinds of personal time travel stories have a lot of appeal, precisely because they are a refreshing departure from saving the world.  But what worked great in the movie got bogged in the television series.   Of the three canceled series, I would have most wanted to see what happened next season, but the first season took a little too long to get there.

H. G. Wells traveling to our present in his time machine was a great idea for the Time After Time TV series as well as the movie.   For all we know, the series could have been excellent.  But we didn't get a chance to see that, and what we did see on screen got tied up in a few too many stories and subplots.

Timeless was original, and had some nice touches, such as travel to the past resulting in real, demonstrable changes in our present.   Most time travel stories don't dare go there.  But the labyrinth of conspiracies blunted the impact of the story, and the conspirators going back to the American Revolutionary War is something we saw before on screens.  *Note added 14 May 2017: Still, I'm very glad to see it renewed!

12 Monkeys returns for three nights on the SyFy Channel later this month, and then next year for a final season.   The future of time travel on the screen may well reside on Netflix and Amazon.


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