“Timeless” is Time Travel That Travels Well

Although NBC’s new time travel sci-fi adventure series Timeless is not directly based on a previous series or film, it is very much a re-imagination of a number of well-worn time travel stories. It reminds me most of the 1966 TV series Time Tunnel. Both tell the story of a top-secret government facility consisting of a time machine. Our heroes travel back in time sometimes to famous historic events. The opening episode of Time Tunnel took us to the sinking of the Titanic while Timeless allowed us to visit the crash of the Hindenburg. If you’re not old enough to remember Time Tunnel there are also hints of 1989’s Quantum Leap TV series.

The show opens with a very well done depiction of the phrase of the Hindenburg and then jumps to present day where a group of commandos are storming a secret government facility. After a bloody gun battle, one of the attackers is able to successfully steal a time machine. The government then recruits history professor Lucy Preston played by Abigail Spencer to assist and advise them as pursue the thief across time. They make use of a somewhat clunkier looking backup time machine. Spencer has appeared in TV series such as Suits, and True Detective.

She is accompanied by a Delta force commando Wyatt Logan played by Matt Lanter and engineer Rufus Carlin played by Malcolm Barrett. Lanter is most known for his role in the more recent of the two versions of 90210. Barnett is lesser-known but played in the series Better off Ted. The master criminal they are pursuing is Garcia Flynn who is portrayed by Goran Visnjuic who has a long résumé but is mostly known as Dr. Luka Kovac from the TV series ER.

Although I really like the series and I’m going to recommend it to sci-fi fans, it does suffer from much of the “plot driven technology” that I spoke about in my previous review of the new series “Frequency”. I invite you to see that review for more details of what I’m talking about. We get the typical “If we have a time machine and fail in our mission, why can’t we just do it again?” The response is the stereotypical technobabble about the dangers of meeting yourself in the past and the irreparable catastrophic damage that would be done to the space-time continuum. The slightly more detailed explanation of the “rules” is that you can’t visit any event that you’ve already visited. At least that’s a little more specific than the Doctor Who concept of “fixed point in time that cannot be changed.” Because it never really tells us why they are fixed.

There are hints that the bad guy really isn’t a bad guy after all. It suggests that he has some greater purpose for wanting to rewrite history but we are never really sure the details of his hidden agenda. In the opening episode he still wanted the Hindenburg to blow up but to do so on his time schedule. While it initially appears that our heroes have in some way set history right by the end of the show, Abigail discovers that there are some far-flung side effects to the changes they made in history and those changes will affect her personal life in dramatic ways which I will not spoil.

Other episode titles tell us that we are going to visit the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, The Alamo, and perhaps discover what happened to the missing 18 minutes of the Watergate tapes. The opportunity for a bit of social commentary is available because our hero is female and one of her companions is African-American. Neither of them are treated with much respect in the 1930s compared to their handsome rugged white male soldier companion.

The story held my interest. We like the ongoing mystery of who is this bad guy and why does he want a time machine? The negative consequences of changing the past will also add extra tension to the story. Basically after seeing one episode it left me wanting more. I’m giving it a rating of “I like it” and unless you totally hate sci-fi I think you might enjoy it as well.

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