Written by Josh Sarnecky
Timeless, ‘Pilot’ Plot Summary:
When criminal Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic) steals a time machine and travels back in time to alter the results of the Hindenburg disaster, an unlikely trio consisting of scientist Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett), soldier Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter), and historian Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer) must follow him to the past and stop him.
Back in September when we posted our predictions about which new fall shows would get cancelled, I suggested that Timeless would be cancelled midway through its intended run. Having seen the first episode, I can say that I generally enjoyed the pilot but still believe my prediction will hold up. Time travel is by no means a new subject on television; there are at least three other shows on the air right now that prominently feature time travel (Legends of Tomorrow, 12 Monkeys, and Dr. Who come to mind). When such redundancy happens, shows have two options to distinguish themselves from the competition: either put a twist on the concept or refine/improve upon what has already been done. The pilot of Timeless failed to accomplish either task but still has the potential to do so in the future.
Perhaps the greatest challenge the show has to overcome is the pacing of the premiere episode. The pilot is in such a rush to get to the time travel that the show fails to establish a strong foundation for the science fiction; the audience barely has an opportunity to learn about who Rufus, Wyatt, and Lucy are before the three of them are thrown into the time machine. Instead of fleshing out these characters and establishing why they are protagonists that viewers should care about, the show delivers a quick checklist of occupations, motivations, and fun facts. That approach may qualify as economical storytelling, but such rapid introductions do not typically give viewers enough time to connect with the characters.
This issue could be especially problematic because shows with ensemble casts often live or die according to strength of their protagonists and their chemistry. Consider, for example, the starring trio of Star Wars. Would the series be anywhere near as successful if Luke, Leia, and Han weren’t as well defined or exhibited less chemistry? I think not. If Timeless wants to avoid cancellation and succeed, the team must become more likeable and cohesive. As of now, none of the three protagonists are that compelling or interesting. While certain personality traits and dynamics are highlighted, very little stands out other than Lucy’s cryptic interaction with Flynn and her dilemma at the end of the episode.
Continuing the show’s problem with pacing, Timeless manages to introduce a number of fascinating mysteries (such as the two just mentioned) in the pilot but answers too many of them too quickly. While intrigue and questions may not be a prerequisite for a successful sci-fi show, such elements certainly garner and maintain interest. Mysteries obviously shouldn’t overstay their due, but they must be given time to take root. Thankfully, not all of the questions raised are answered and have the potential to become quite enticing. And these remaining mysteries could impact the trajectory of the series and are perhaps the most exciting takeaway from the pilot. If handled with care, these plot points may even differentiate the show from its time traveling competitors on CW, Syfy, and BBC.
And amongst these faults, there is still plenty to enjoy in this first episode. The show clearly has a love of history and required an impressive amount of research to make possible; the sets, clothing, and acting in 1930s New Jersey all come off as authentic and should please history buffs. And while I wouldn’t necessarily describe the episode as educational, the show’s depiction of Hindenburg disaster may prove to be a history lesson for some viewers. Meanwhile, Flynn may not have been heavily featured, but he manages to establish himself as an interesting and somewhat charismatic villain. His motives, knowledge, and history are appropriately veiled, so hopefully the answers will prove satisfying (and come gradually). Once again, the success of this task could dramatically impact the show’s future.
While Timeless may not have established itself as the premiere time travel show on television, there are elements that suggest promise. But until the series pays off on that potential and learns to take its time, NBC’s latest attempt at sci-fi will remain a middle-of-the-road drama. Only time will tell if that status will change.
RATING: 6.5 OUT OF 10