Tube Talk: Make time for Timeless

By Paula Hendrickson

Rockford native Shawn Ryan is perhaps best know for creating The Shield, the ground-breaking drama series that helped put FX on the map in 2002. If you’ve watched Terriers, Lie To Me, The Unit, The Chicago Code, Last Resort, or The Get Down, you’ve seen Ryan’s work. He’s one of the most respected showrunners working today – not just because of his storytelling skills and creative vision, but because he is a nice, down-to-earth guy.

While the subject matter of his shows has varied a lot over the years, and he once wrote for Angel, one area Ryan hadn’t tackled, until now, was sci-fi.

Ryan’s new series, Timeless – which he co-created with Eric Kripke (executive producer of Supernatural and Revolution) – debuted Monday on NBC, and has something for every taste. There’s time travel, action, conspiracy theory, humor, and lots and lots of history.

It also has a great cast. Abigail Spencer (Rectify, Suits, True Detective) stars as historian-turned-reluctant-hero Lucy Preston, who is more conscripted to travel back in time with special ops soldier Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter, Star Wars Rebels, The Astronaut Wives Club) and their pilot Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett, Better Off Ted, The Soul Man) to pursue Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic, ER, Extant) who stole a time machine from the wealthy and mysterious industrialist Connor Mason (Patterson Joseph, The Leftovers, Law & Order: UK) with an aim of changing American history. Luckily Mason kept the prototype as a back-up just in case it was needed.

While each episode contains a stand-alone adventure that’s slightly reminiscent of – yet very different from – the classic sci-fi series Quantum Leap, a couple of underlying stories begin to emerge early on: One addressing the dangers of changing the time line in even the smallest way, and another hinting at a larger mystery behind Mason and his motives.

Timeless is one of the first time-travel shows I can recall that addresses the practical minutia of things like ensuring the travelers have period (or near period) clothing and period appropriate money. When time-travel stories don’t explain those things my mind wanders away from the plot as I wonder where they got their costumes and how they managed to pay for something.

As writers, Ryan and Kripke manage to convey a lot with quick images and one-liners, and their cast really sells it. Having a woman and an African American man among the time-travelers ups the stakes on some journeys, and allows viewers to see how much – and sadly sometimes how little – things have changed over time when it comes to racism and sexism. Some of Rufus’ scenes that seem like comic relief actually underscore very important realities, past and present. While Timeless is a fun show, it’s not all fluff. There’s plenty of substance, too.

Pilot episodes can be clunky when there’s a lot of explaining to do. But because Lucy and Wyatt are recruited in the first episode, viewers learn the rules of time travel right along with them. The first couple of episodes of Timeless are fun, and I can’t wait to see where – and when – it takes us. And them.

Programming Note

Timeless airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on NBC.

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