Current political events being what they are, it’s perhaps not that surprising that there are so many time-travel TV shows around right now, as the idea of altering the past to change the present seems mighty appealing.
Currently available to stream on Netflix (it first aired on E4), NBC’s Timeless taps into that idea beautifully, combining fun characters and a thrilling sense of adventure with twisty, history-altering time-travel shenanigans. Although briefly cancelled, the show was renewed for a 10-episode second season that will air in 2018, so now is the perfect time to catch up with Season 1.
Here are nine reasons why you should be watching:
Timeless centres on a trio of heroes – historian Lucy (Mad Men’s Abigail Spencer), soldier Wyatt (Matt Lanter) and scientist Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) – who are recruited by Homeland Security Agent Christopher (Sakina Jaffrey) to travel to a different time period each week in order to stop “time terrorist” Garcia Flynn (ER’s Goran Višnjić) from changing the course of American history. Timeless takes that ridiculous premise and properly runs with it, delivering fun characters, suspenseful storylines and plenty of pulpy action over the course of its first 16-part run. The stakes are established in the opening episode, when Lucy returns from their first mission (involving the Hindenburg) to discover that her sister Amy (Bailey Noble) no longer exists!
The cool time machine(s)
You can’t have an awesome time-travel show without a cool time-machine, and Timeless gives you two for the price of one. First, there’s the brand spanking new Mothership (gleaming white surfaces, glowing blue lights, the works), which Flynn promptly steals in the first episode. That leaves our heroes with The Lifeboat, a ramshackle prototype version of the Mothership that resembles a giant staring eye.
The character dynamics
Lanter and Spencer make ridiculously good-looking leads and the chemistry between them is smoking hot, even though the show has (so far) prevented a full-blown romance. (That’s partly due to Wyatt’s ongoing desire to go back in time and prevent his dead wife from getting murdered, so what’s the betting he’ll accidentally save her life just as he finally gets together with Lucy in Season 2?) Spencer also has intriguing chemistry with Višnjić, as Flynn seems to know much more about Lucy’s future than she does, revealing that it’s her notebook (that she hasn’t even written yet) that he’s been using for his time targets. The constant shifts in sympathy for Višnjić’s character (is he villain or anti-hero, etc) is just one of the elements the show handles really well.
Butterfly Effect? What Butterfly Effect?
Traditionally, Time Travel Rule No. 1 is that History As We Know It must be preserved at all costs. Not so with Timeless. What makes the show interesting is that the characters are flawed and they often wind up making things 10 times worse in their efforts to prevent Flynn’s time-crimes. Sometimes, this is played for laughs (their encounter with Ian Fleming leads to a new Bond film), but their actions have serious consequences too. Indeed, they have so little regard for the Butterfly Effect that they’ll quite happily rewrite entire chunks of established history, such as the arrest of Al Capone, or the deaths of Jesse James or Bonnie and Clyde. You’d never catch Sam Beckett doing that.
The shadowy organisation
Every trashy TV show needs an ongoing conspiracy and Timeless has a doozy in the shape of shadowy organisation Rittenhouse, who appear to be responsible for everything evil in the world ever and have an as-yet-unrevealed sinister plan for the future that connects to each of the characters in some way. Flynn, for his part, is trying to destroy Rittenhouse, as they murdered his wife and child – could taking down Rittenhouse not be a bad thing, after all?
The showrunners are clearly history buffs
Not only are creators Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan massive history nerds, but they’ve also clearly done their homework. Each episode usually centres on a little-known side-figure in history, in the background of whatever the main historical event is. The best examples include Robert Todd Lincoln (Lincoln’s son), JFK’s mistress, Judith Campbell, NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson (the subject of Hidden Figures), and serial killer H. H. Holmes. Essentially, each episode is like a mini-history lesson, but in a fun way. (If you like that sort of thing, it’s well worth following the writers at @TheTimelessRoom on Twitter.)
The fun guest stars
Timeless doesn’t go in for particularly big names when it comes to guest stars, but it certainly hands fun parts to familiar character actors and TV faces. Highlights range from Britain’s own Sean Maguire as Fleming (one of the show’s best episodes) and Revenge’s Elena Satine as Campbell to Fear the Walking Dead’s Colman Domingo as black bounty hunter Bass Reeves (in the Jesse James episode) and, weirdest of all, EastEnders’ Sam Strike (aka. Johnny Carter) as Clyde Barrow.
The running jokes
There are a number of enjoyable running jokes in Timeless, from the fact that each time-jump makes Wyatt sea-sick (or time-sick) to the characters’ habit of giving fake names derived from 21st century pop culture figures or TV shows every time they need an alias in a different time period. That’s amusing enough in itself, but the choices are often extremely lame (“This is Doctor Dre, I’m Nurse Jackie – we’re from General Hospital”), to the point where it almost feels like the characters are doing it deliberately to amuse themselves.
The fabulous cliffhangers
Timeless has mastered the art of the cliffhanger. It’s almost as if it knew it was destined to be binge-watched on Netflix some day. Episode 1 doesn’t just end with Lucy discovering her sister no longer exists, oh no – she also discovers that she’s now engaged to someone she’s never even met before. Dun-dun-durr! The show is chock full of such twists, which we won’t reveal here…
The catchy theme tune
The icing on the cake for Timeless is its enormously catchy theme tune by Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Robert Duncan, which has a real race-against-time feel to it. Even better – on Netflix you get to hear the whole thing without an E4 announcer talking over it.
Timeless Season 1 and 2 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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