Timeless (NBC) pilot preview: when the story is already written…

TIME

Created and exeuctive produced by Eric Kripke (Supernatural, Revolution) & Shawn Ryan (The Shield, The Unit, The Get Down). Directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday, Game of Thrones). Also executive produced by John Davis (The Blacklist, I, Robot, Predator), John Fox (The Blacklist, Dr Ken, The Player) & Marney Hochman (Terriers, The Chicago Code, Last Resort). For NBC, Sony Pictures Television, Davis Entertainment & MiddKid Prods. 64 pages.

Description: an unlikely trio formed with Lucy Preston, the best history professor in town, military man Wyatt Logan and brilliant engineer Rufus Carlin, travel through time to battle a master criminal intent on altering the fabric of human history with potentially catastrophic results lead by the mysterious terrorist Garcia Flynn. They need to stop him before everything changes for the whole world…

With Abigail Spencer (Rectify, Mad Men, True Detective), Matt Lanter (90210, Star-Crossed), Malcolm Barrett (Better Off Ted), Goran Visnjic (ER, Extant), Paterson Joseph (The Leftovers, Babylon), Sakina Jaffrey (House of Cards, Third Watch), Claudia Doumit

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Why do time travel is the big trend of this pilot season with four projects -three dramas, one comedy- tackling it? My best theory is because Back To The Future just celebrated its 30th birthday a few months ago (1985-2015). So writers thought it might the right time to revisit the theme with original ideas… or not. ABC’s Time After Time is inspired by a novel and The CW’s Frequency by the movie of the same name (=> read the preview here). Time is 100% original while its title is 100% uninspired. It is described as Back To The Future meets Mission: Impossible. That’s certainly one way to put it. With such an ambition and its two well-regarded creators, Eric Kripke & Shawn Ryan -who can make as many flops as they want, they will always find new jobs- no surprise networks fought to get it until it lands at NBC with a big commitment. Meaning the pilot order was only a formality and the series order seems very likely, as well as a post-The Voice slot and an Olympic Games push next summer. The story is already written. At least the beginning of it. I’m not sure about what will happen next. Will it work or flop hard? We never really know what the future holds…

Every year, NBC launches one or two high-concept dramas but it’s the bland dramas that tend to stick (or the high-concept pilots quickly become bland boring series, i.g. The Blacklist). This season, opportunities were given to Blindspot, which did great initially and still is an honorable performer six months later; and to The Player, that was cancelled after a few airings. For this pilot season, Time is the only high octane option. I didn’t hate the pilot script but I found it very robotic -short sentences, no time to breathe, ever. The few attempts towards emotion are too mechanical. As a result, it’s hard to feel something for the leads and it’s also very hard to be surprised by their interactions. We’re right in the middle of well-known territory and it’s a shame. It’s cool to take risks and dream big but if you’re goal number one is to make the story moving at a fast pace and make it as broader as possible, you fail in general. Time travel nerds will find it way too simple and uninspired, while the most part of the audience will look for something special in Time they will never find, I’m afraid. You got the good twists, a great cliffhanger but it lacks heart and sincerity. Plus, the pilot doesn’t give a good vision of what to expect on a weekly basis. Is it 100% serialized or will every episode feature a close-ended story with serialized elements? Is the plan visiting a new event from history (or future) in every episode?

30-something Lucy has no choice but to follow orders when homeland security knocks at her family home’s door and forces her to travel through time with two people she’s never seen before in a capsule called Lifeboat. Just because she’s the best history professor available (but mostly because she’s a stunning beauty, which helps to sell the concept to the masses). They have to stop a crazy terrorist (Goran Visnjic) who allegedly killed his wife and daughters (but we’re pretty sure that as bad as it looks, everything will make sense in the end and he will only be one piece of a wicked game). So their first mission is to go back to 1937 in New York and prevent the famous Hindenburg Zeppelin created by the Germans from accidentally crashing and killing a ton of people (it really happened). It will make one hell of a costly opening scene! They succeed of course -sort of- but I won’t tell you how, you’ll see. The writers try to be as spectacular as they can, hoping they will be granted a substantial budget so it doesn’t look too fake. They don’t really bother with explanations, they bet on short-cuts, quick moves so we don’t get enough time to think. Except, when you read, you can stop whenever you like it. That’s what I did a few times and it gave me a headache. Time travel stories always do. It’s so complex. It’s not a feeling I particularly like, to be honest. But it’s inevitable.

Of course, you get the right amount of sexual tension between the two leads -Abigail Spencer and Matt Lanter are SO beautiful they will make a couple everybody will be rooting for- while the third lead (Malcolm Barrett) is the sidekick with secrets, and probably the most interesting character of the whole show. Lucy and Wyatt have so cliché backstories -one has a mum who’s dying of cancer, the other lost his wife- that you get bored with them very quickly. Again, the respective charm of the actors -and Abigail Spencer is a very talented actress- could make them way more enjoyable to follow on screen, through time.

Since history tends to repeat itself, I don’t see Time becoming a huge hit for NBC. I think it’s their new Revolution. It will start OK because they will do everything they can to insure it gets a big premiere, because they will do an efficient marketing campaign with beautiful posters and special commercials during the Olympics. But honestly, you need to be on your A-game to tackle time travel properly. Are they?  Only time will tell if the show is good enough, simple (not simplistic) and entertaining enough to keep people interested for more than an episode or two. I’m worried it rapidly becomes inconsistent, a big mess. But kudos to NBC for trying something “different” from the Chicagos. Hope they will be rewarded.

4 comments

  1. Dakota60 says:

    Kripke hit lightening in a bottle when he cast Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki in Supernatural. He has been trying to recreate that formula but without the talents of those two amazing young actors I’m afraid that all it shows is that Kripke was just an average writer on an obscure network.
    The script either has to outshine the acting or the acting (and tremendous chemistry) has to outshine the subpar writing.
    I see one season for Time maybe two and then NBC will have to cut Kripke loose.

  2. MissPettigrewLives says:

    Sigh. This sounds like exactly what I expected from this show, and I’m disappointed. To be more specific, I was worried that Time would be all flashy packaging and no substance, banking on a trendy theme (time-travel) and big set pieces (like the Hindenburg scene) to sell a story with very little heart to it, but would end up getting picked up and hyped to high heavens anyway because network execs are suits who will bet on the formula of Name Showrunners over story.

    It’s particularly disappointing to me because I’m more interested in the other shows NBC is developing that don’t have something like the Ryan+Kripke brand giving them a push (even though neither Ryan nor Kripke have had a hit in years, IMO.) Sigh.

    I think the weakness of the material shows in the fact that the cast is weak, aside from maybe Abigail Spencer (and even with her I’m not sure if she can anchor an entire show–being a lead requires more than just being a good actress.)

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