Hit or Sh**: NBC’s TIMELESS
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**.
With all the time travel stories that have been engulfing the small screen lately, it’s an incredible and unfamiliar feeling when you find one that works. That feeling came to me when I watched the pilot of NBC’s TIMELESS, created by Eric Kripke (SUPERNATURAL) and Shawn Ryan (THE SHIELD). A criminal named Garcia Flynn steals a time machine in the hopes of destroying America by altering various parts of its history. Homeland Security then gathers up our team of heroes — Lucy the knowledgeable history professor, Wyatt the bad-ass Delta Force soldier, and Rufus the skilled coder — to operate a prototype of the time machine and prevent Flynn from doing whatever he’s trying to do.
While I didn’t go into the show with high expectations, my attitude changed very quickly once I pressed play. The first thing we see in TIMELESS is the enormous Hindenburg airship floating in the sky, immediately thrusting tension in our hearts, as we can all guess what’s coming next. And we’re right; the Hindenburg goes down in flames in a brutal and heart wrenching segment. This kind of a cold open is so much more effective than the tedious expositions that shows have taken to nowadays, as it’s something recognizable, completely investing you into the plot of the show from minute one.
I should feel bad, but this scene was freaking awesome.
The start of the episode moves very fast, and it doesn’t slow down from there. Normally it bothers me when a show moves too rapidly because it’s hard to invest in what’s going on, but TIMELESS does fast-paced storytelling correctly. It gives us just enough initial information about our characters to make us care about them, without completely immobilizing the story in order to do so. We quickly learn that Lucy has just been passed up for tenure at her university, and that Rufus has hopelessly fallen for his co-worker, and that’s enough to make us empathize with them before they are thrust into a crazy situation.
In addition, instead of spending half the time explaining the technology of the machine and how time travel works, TIMELESS says “fuck it.” The show understands that we all know how time travel functions. No matter how different or unique you try to make your time machine, the concept is still the same. The characters just had to say the words “time machine” and we’re all up to speed. Our heroes are already heading back to 1937 by the 12-minute mark of the episode, and that was perfectly fine with me.
They’re basically time travelling in a physical embodiment of the CBS logo
Though the pilot was strong, there were definitely some flaws in the logic. One that stuck out was in the beginning, when Agent Christopher asks our main hero Lucy to participate in the time travel mission. She is completely against the idea, insisting that they seek out someone else, and eventually storms off on the agent. Then, in the next scene, we see her getting ready to leave with the team. Boy, did she change her mind fast. Furthermore, when Lucy, Rufus, and Wyatt finally land in 1937, they don’t seem very affected by what they see around them. Sure, they knew exactly what was going to be there when they arrived, but I for one would still get a bit giddy if I saw a 1937 German blimp above my head. These are minor forgivable faults, but worth mentioning nonetheless.
TIMELESS has one important thing that I rarely see in pilots these days: heart. A lot of series feel that the first episode should be filled to the brim with plot to keep an audience wanting more. This show has a wildly engaging plot, but also knows when to step back and let us get to know our characters, bringing out some major emotions in the process. Most of the heart of the episode came from the character of Wyatt, as we observe his peculiar devotion to a reporter in 1937 and slowly learn that she is a reminder of his late wife. The struggle between his responsibility to the mission and his love for his wife was very impactful and illuminating for his character. The genuineness of the story was also demonstrated in the final scene of the episode, where Lucy discovers how her little trip to the ʼ30s altered her reality by simultaneously healing her sick mother and obliterating her sister from existence. This is where Abigail Spencer’s acting chops really shone, as her character was completely defined in this emotional rollercoaster of a scene. Though the story is undoubtedly compelling, the well-executed insight into the characters is what really made me want to keep watching.
Dear TIMELESS, please don’t pander to your audience by making Lucy and Wyatt a couple in the future
I sure hope that TIMELESS becomes successful, because it deserves to be. The show might suffer in ratings considering the fact that it’s a time travel show that’s not really science-fiction. You’re probably not going to get those complex science and technology conundrums you might have signed up for when you started watching. What you are going to get is a strong story, strong characters, and maybe even a short history lesson or two.
If the rest of the series can maintain its sincerity and fresh take on this genre, count me in.
TIMELESS airs on Mondays on NBC