Sunday, December 25, 2016

Travelers: 12 Monkeys meets Quantum Leap meets Air Raid, with a Story All Its Own

The premise of Travelers - people from the future coming back to save our world from devastation, by changing the past, and traveling via insertion of their minds into 2016 bodies, of people who are on the verge of dying - is something we've seen before in time travel, notably in 12 Monkeys (save the world), Quantum Leap (mind from the future into present bodies), and Air Raid/Millennium (bodies on the verge of death).  Travelers even feels a little like Trancers (1984) - which is to say, very welcome, since Trancers is one of my all-time favorite low-budget time travel series of movies - but the actual story and stories of the new Canadian series, streaming since a few days ago on Netflix, has twists and turns and an appeal all its own. And, in the end, it's altogether outstanding.

Indeed, the episodes get better and better, with the last few being brilliant pieces of time travel narrative, culminating in a puzzle as profound and vexing as ever we've seen on television, and left almost in mid-air and crying out for continuation in a second season.  This first season is a classic case of a story that goes from interesting to engaging to absolutely riveting.

Time travel, of course, can never work exactly as planned.  Imperfection is the demon of the most carefully designed time travel strategy, and it makes for an intriguing story.   The present bodies that our future travelers shunt into are supposed to be in good physical and mental health, about to die by accident or some external assault, but sometimes the future's reconnaissance on the would-be hosts is not up to snuff.  One of the most interesting characters ends up in the body of someone who was supposed to die of his first drug dose, but the hosts turns out to be an addict.   Another appears in the body of young woman who was to be killed by some thugs, but her brain is already suffering from a congenital problem that the new possessor has to deal with.   Romantic relationships from the future and past also complicate and animate the doings of our time-travelers, and become mainsprings of the stories.

There are a couple of weaknesses in the plot - the main one being that new travelers from the future appear a bit too often as solutions and dangers.   But the fundamental tale is strong and provocative, the acting excellent -  especially good to see Eric McCormack (of Will and Grace) and MacKenzie Porter (of Hell on Wheels) on the screen - and we're treated to not only superior time-travel reckoning but sophisticated AI dilemmas as well in Travelers.

The big time travel questions are handled well, including the chestnut of how will the future unexpectedly change due to the changes deliberate and accidental in the past, especially with unforeseen consequences for the primary mission from the future? The details are done with savvy, including the travelers can't go further back in history than the digital age, since our computers are needed to precisely track times of death for the hosts and arrival for the travelers. So how would I rate Travelers in comparison to other time travel television series now or recently on the screen?   Better than Timeless and Frequency, and in the end as good as 12 Monkeys, which is high praise indeed.   Great work by Stargate creator Brad Wright.

 travel a little further back in time

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