Shows about time travel are pretty common, as shows like Quantum Leap and Doctor Who have a lot of fun with the premise. The advantage is that the main characters get to go to a new...time every episode, but that gets pretty expensive, budget-wise. Not only that, time travel plotlines get very confusing, and NBC's new show Timeless appears to be falling into these conventions but is also flipping them on their end. This is our review of NBC's new Timeless with Spoilers.
Timeless Pilot Review (Spoilers Ahead)
Timeless opens with the landing of an airship on May 6, 1937, and since there is German being spoken, it feels like an "oh the humanity" scene is coming. Sure enough, some poor guy gets some static electric going, and that Hindenburg goes up in spectacular and lethal flames.
Of course, it cuts to present day. The reason why I say "of course" is because every action show has this annoying way of starting in the middle of the action. I really can't stand movies or TV shows that start this way, because then you have to wait for the show to catch up to itself.
So the real story begins when a history professor named Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer) gets fired. She says that her mother started the history department, and Lucy is not going to get tenure. Apparently, she has this belief that her mother's history department is her mother's legacy, and doesn't want to give up on it. Sadly, her mother is sick, but she still brings her a Snickers. It's a legitimately heart-warming moment as Lucy and her sister Amy (Bailey Noble) can't do anything about their ailing mother.
It then cuts to a secret government-controlled building where there is an obvious time machine being stored. It is appears to be ran by Anthony Bruhl, and it is good to see Matt Frewer (the man that used to play Max Headroom) in something. Sadly, terrorists take over and kidnap Anthony, and you know that they want this time machine for what it can do, because, seriously, terrorists would probably do that.
It isn't long before the terrorists disappear in the time machine, and when the cops show up, they ask: "where did they go"? I'm so glad that someone doesn't say "you mean when did they go". That's such a stupid time travel thing to say, and it is a really old convention.
Lucy Preston is called in for some reason, and so is Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter) of the Delta Force. Apparently, the terrorists were led by Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic), an ex-NSA asset who killed his family. Connor Mason (Paterson Joseph) then comes in and explains how time travel works, using a piece of paper, because every smart scientist that studies time travel loves using that illustration.
Fortunately, these guys have a back-up time machine, but the other time machine went to the time of the Hindenburg. I suppose that now is as good of a time as any to bring up the basic time travel thing that every time travel story uses.
Apparently, the worldview of Timeless is if you were to go back in time and change something, then the timestream is altered (it is explained later that you can't fix it). Fair enough, and Lucy asks Connor: "Why would you even build something like this?". At which point he answers: "We didn't see this coming".
That's what you're going with? This is a really good point! If you know that you are building a device that gives you the power to play God in a messy way, why would you build it in the first place?
Anyway, Lucy is supposed to travel back in time to stop these terrorist guys, because if you own a time machine, it's what you do. They need Lucy because she knows history.
What is funny is that these time travel guys have a wardrobe for her that will blend in with the 1937 time period. She says it's incorrect, because the bra has a wire in it. What is funny is that the time travel guys say: "best we can do on such short notice".
Uh, don't you have a time machine? You could take a week, a month, or a year to get her wardrobe right, and it theoretically shouldn't have an effect on past events. After all, if Flynn went back in time to change past events, shouldn't they already be changed by now? Yeah, a lot of time travel films get confusing because of these kinds of plot-holes.
Lucy and Wyatt go back in time with Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett), the pilot. Then there is the big "start up the time machine and travel back through time" scene. There doesn't appear to be any scene where they go through hyperspace, but a "poof, and we're here". At least the time machine, which looks like a big eyball, looks cool as it starts up. There is a great shot when they look up and see the Hindenburg, and take a bus there.
Rufus had to spend time in the back of the bus because he's a black man and...1937. Yes, this past racism figures into the plotline a lot.
Fortunately, Lucy knows everything about history while Wyatt knows his way around New Jersey (where the Hindenburg crashed). Wyatt meets Kate Drummond (Shantel VanSanten), a reporter from that time period. Apparently, this reporter is supposed to die when the Hindenburg crashes on her. I did a Google search and could only find the name Kate Drummond associated with Timeless, so I am assuming that this character is made up for the show.
Lucy attempts to warn people below about the impending disaster of the Hindenburg. She introduces her crew as "Dr. Dre" and "Nurse Jackie", and she is from "General Hospital". It seems like every time travel movie uses this trope of fake names that are obviously fake if you are from the future. It's like when Marty McFly said he was Clint Eastwood in Back to the Future III.
Lucy's cover story is actually pretty good. She tells the officers that Flynn is around, and he has the Spanish flu. That puts the on high alert, without giving them the spoiler that the Hindenberg is going to crash.
The show then catches up to itself because...every show does this storytelling device now. What is interesting is that the Hindenburg doesn't blow up. Flynn was somehow able to mess with the grounding ropes so the static electricity didn't happen, and, as Rufus put it, "no boom". Suddenly, this show has my attention, as they altered history, but there will be consequences.
Of course, Lucy tries to figure out why Flynn prevented a disaster, and she gets captured by one of Flynn's goons. Wyatt rescues her, and Lucy realizes the problem with saving the Hindenburg. Perhaps some people get saved who should have died, and...uh-oh, we got some serious time mix-ups going on.
So is it a bad thing that Flynn saved 36 people, who had technically already died? That's actually a good question, and this show does a pretty good job exploring this issue.
Also, Wyatt has a gun with him, and it is a modern one. Lucy brings up the possibility of just landed Nazis finding the gun and taking it to Berlin. If the Nazis were able to mass produce future guns, would the Nazis win the war? Isn't time travel stories fun for allowing us to ask such questions? This is why you make a show about time travel.
Rufus discovers that Flynn's plan is to blow up the Hindenburg as it leaves, because it will have many historical figures aboard when the Hindenburg returns, like John D. Rockefeller, Omar Bradley, and Igor Sikorsky.
Then there is an odd shot where a bunch of kids are singing "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" I decided to check, and the song was featured in The Three Little Pigs in 1933, which means that it could be sung in 1937. I always like to check when I see things like that in period pieces.
Then our time travel trio is captured, and the police don't believe that the Hindenburg is in trouble because...it hasn't blown up yet. Wyatt reveals that he likes Kate because she reminds him of his wife, who has died. He wishes that he could change the event that caused his wife to die, and this is surely going to be a running subplot.
Wyatt can jimmy the lock, but he needs the wire in Lucy's bra. (Remember when that was introduced? Yeah, I saw that was coming from a mile away.) Rufus has to distract the guard, and he lectures him about the accomplishments of black people, and it's actually pretty funny.
They eventually escape, and make it back to the Hindenburg. I don't know how they get on without a ticket, so it's good that Indiana Jones wasn't working there. If you don't get that joke, watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade again.
The time travel trio they discover a bomb, with little red numbers that kindly inform everyone who holds it when it will go off. By the way, they discover that the blimp has taken off and they are in the air. Uh, wouldn't you feel the blimp taking off? Just saying.
The heroes then take knives from the kitchen and hold the pilots hostage, demanding that they land. By the way, they get Kate Drummond to join them. This leads to the bomb disarming scene that has also been done to death in most films.
Wyatt tells Kate the truth, that he is Buck Rogers and the bomb is from space. This time, Kate knows he isn't telling the truth because Buck Rogers was well-known by 1937. Once again, a time travel convention of the fake name is flipped, which I like.
Once the bomb is stopped, there is a stray bullet that blows up the Hindenberg. So I guess it is just fate that it gets blown up.
Lucy then meets up with Flynn, who has a journal that belongs to her. Lucy says she didn't write the journal, but she will. Flynn asks her why Lucy was chosen. Also, Flynn tells Lucy to ask her superiors about Rittenhouse, and I might not be spelling that correctly. It's clearly a subplot of what appears to be a well-planned show.
Wyatt shows up and then Flynn takes Lucy at gunpoint and says "I know for a fact that you are not going to shoot", then Wyatt does. I'm still trying to process that scene.
Then Kate gets shot, so I guess it is fate that she dies. This question of fate on this show is actually getting pretty interesting.
With the mission in the past over, there is nothing to do but return. They find that history has been altered so the Hindenburg blew up one day later. So perhaps there is this element of fate happening here so that even if you try to alter something, it still happens. Again, this is why you make time travel stories, so you can ask questions like this.
Apparently, the time travel bosses send the three home, and tell them if anything else happens, they will call.
Rufus and Connor meet up, and Rufus has been recording things for him, for something. Yet another subplot that needs to be developed.
There is a shot of Flynn reading the journal with a printing of "One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind." So, is there the moon visit in the future, or do I mean the past? Yeah, time travel stories always make you talk like that.
Also, when Lucy gets home, her formerly ailing mom is completely fine, and it is a real Back to the Future ending. Oh, apparently Lucy is supposed to have an engagement ring. Also, she doesn't have a sister. Okay, now this just got really interesting. And I thought This is Us had a great twist. Apparently, postponing the destruction of the Hindenburg causes a lot of chaos.
The pilot episode of Timeless ends with Lucy receiving a phone call, saying that Flynn is on the move again. She then asks "Where", and then she asks "when". Dang it, you couldn't resist using that time travel movie cliche, could you?
Our Review of NBC's Timeless
On the whole, I will have to say that Timeless isn't something that we haven't seen before. There was a show called 7 Days about a man that was a time traveler, and every science fiction show like Star Trek and Stargate used it all the time.
There has never been a show that really made the time travel the center of its plot like this. Not only that, it is taking the idea of a villain with a time machine and a team that has to fix the damage. That's actually pretty cool and somewhat imaginative.
I have already stated that most time travel stories use a lot of the conventions that Timeless uses. I have also mentioned that it looks like Timeless is self-aware, which means that it knows how to turn these conventions on their end.
This means that Timeless has the ability to be something original, which is what television needs. I don't know whether it will be timeless, but we will see.