Hit or Sh**: ABC’s TIME AFTER TIME

In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.

time after time

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Are you fascinated by Jack the Ripper? How about time travel? Old timey manners? Extremely obvious social commentary? In that case, boy, is this show the one for you! It’s based on the original mainstream fanfic TIME AFTER TIME (a 1979 novel by Karl Alexander) and the movie adaptation of this novel, also named TIME AFTER TIME and released in 1979. ABC’s TIME AFTER TIME follows the framework of the novel and movie’s plot, revolving around Jack the Ripper, H.G. Wells, and his time machine (the titular machine of Wells’s first book). There is no historical evidence linking the two figures, so it does seem like Alexander threw the two together for the good ol’ fun of it.

time after time fan

Excerpt from the greatest fanfic of all time

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Now, I love a good fanfic as much as the rest of Tumblr., so I was crossing my fingers for an inventive adventure. Instead, what I got was a fanfic forced into the “guy-who-knows-about-a-bad-guy-but-can’t-go-to-the-cops-and-has-to-catch-him-himself” framework. While this could be overlooked in a show with great writing, directing, and chemistry between the actors, TIME AFTER TIME benefitted from none of these, and therefore felt limp and uninspired. That’s crazy for a show featuring a famous author traveling through time to thwart his murderous best friend. The tone doesn’t help, especially for those who went into the pilot expecting a sprawling, time-defying adventure through the ages of humanity as I did. Instead, the time machine is sabotaged before the end of the two-hour premiere, stranding all the characters in modern day New York, no time-frolicking to be had. Sadface.

It’s a fanfic without all the things that make fanfic fun. The one aspect of TIME AFTER TIME that is sure to please everyone is the super, super, suuuuper attractive protagonist and antagonist (H.G. Wells, played by Freddie Stroma, and John Stevenson/Jack the Ripper, played by Josh Bowman). Freddie Stroma was introduced to American audiences as Cormac McLaggen in the Harry Potter movies, and then proceeded to break hearts across the world with his stint as the “suitor” in the first season of UNREAL, a role in which he was often referred to as “beefcake.” Which he is, of course. Now if they REALLY wanted to get the fanfic momentum going in TIME AFTER TIME, Stevenson and Wells would be the steamy couple. Josh Bowman, known for his role in REVENGE, still manages to be extraordinarily sexy, almost to the point where I no longer believe he murders women (or perhaps to the point where I no longer care?).

time after time smile

Wipe that smirk off your face I still don’t forgive you for what you did to Rachel

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So instead of going full-blown slashfic, we have the standard-issue woman who is TOTALLY OK with being single, and is oh so self-aware that she charms H.G. Wells with her wit and confidence within 36 hours of meeting him. So Jane joins Wells in his mission to track down Stevenson and return him to their time (1893), which is fortunate since she’s an assistant museum curator with a degree in art history and can really contribute by…explaining how iPhones work, I guess?

And then, just as the pilot ends, Wells meets Vanessa Anders—a CEO who informs him that she is his descendant and that they’ve met before in Anders’s past but Wells’s future, when he time traveled to her college campus and informed her of their connection. There’s not much to say about this character, except that I’d bet my firstborn child that she’s going to be revealed as an additional antagonist working at cross-purposes with Wells. Anders’s characterization is heavy-handed and everything from makeup to costume to her armored car and personal security detail screams double-crossing rich person. I pray that I’m mistaken and will be pleasantly surprised, but take a look below. Those eyebrow arches are way too sharp to be good guy brows.

time after time brows

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Anders isn’t the only underdeveloped character. The two main characters, Wells and Stevenson, are really only branded with their historical identities, which gives us no information about their emotions and desires. Maybe we’ll get to them later, but it’s development that really should have been in the pilot. Instead, so much plot was crammed into these two short hours that there was only time to establish Jane’s character as a ready love interest for Wells. Wells and Stevenson’s entrances into the modern world were woefully downplayed, robbing us of some of the juiciest potential the premise had to offer. Wells futzes a few times with some gadgets and can’t seem to understand the concept of a car while Stevenson misunderstands a few words, but beyond that, we don’t really get to discover the world through their eyes.

The premiere tries to add a sprinkling of social commentary into the premiere, inexpertly tacking it onto the beginning of Wells’s time in modern day and failing to connect it to his motives for chasing Stevenson. Stevenson does say that he and his violent nature fit into this time, referring to the multiple wars currently occurring across the world, but Wells doesn’t respond to Stevenson’s remarks, leaving the subject hanging open.

TIME AFTER TIME has wonderful potential because it is such an off-the-wall blending of elements. Unfortunately, that becomes its downfall, for it fails to bring the delightful absurdity of its premise into the storytelling. (For all the delightful absurdity your little heart desires, check out the absolutely bonkers and yet somehow amazing EMERALD CITY.) Excessively earnest, TIME AFTER TIME tries its hardest to be ultra-self aware without succeeding, which is the only thing worse than a total lack of self-awareness. TIME AFTER TIME brings nothing new or special to the science fiction—or any genre—and will be quickly forgotten until the next time Warner Bros. decides it needs to reboot the property to avoid losing the rights. Save your time and watch the next adaptation of this story instead.

Verdict: SH**

TIME AFTER TIME airs on Sundays on ABC

Nicole Barraza Keim

Nicole Barraza Keim is a graduate of USC's School of Cinematic Arts and fervent Trekkie. Her passion is promoting positive change in media by creating content about all types of women kicking ass! To keep up with Nicole’s reviews, follow her on Letterboxd at the link above.

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