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Friday, October 21, 2016

Failing Through Time! This Ain’t No Back To The Future #Timeless #NBC #3weekroundup

Failing Through Time! This Ain’t No Back To The Future #Timeless #NBC #3weekroundup

All pictures courtesy of NBC 

Another untimely three-week roundup review for everybody out there coming your way. With the craziness of the Presidential debates finally come to an end and baseball season nearly over (GO Tribe!), we’ve finally come to a point in time where we can resume our regular season without constant interruptions... until the holidays kick into full gear, that is. But until that time happens, we have the business of taking care of the fun times currently being had by viewers of the new shows. One of the late entries to the debate-effected season, Timeless has come to save us from Ashton Kutcher’s butterfly effect and get us on the right track back to historical sanity. But does it live up to its lofty time expectations or is Timeless a ticking time bomb of suck? I know you’re dying to know, so let’s zoom into the review.

NBC’s Timeless is the network’s latest attempt to bring good sci-fi back to the masses and off of the basic cable channels that house such good ideas not so goodly executed. A simple but high-concept show, Timeless begins with the explosion of the Hindenburg as we know and remember it from history. A few minutes spent in the past to set the scene for the show and before we know it we are back into the present time and meeting our wrangling of characters. Our lead consists of a group of three, led (semi-led) by historian and college professor Lucy Preston (played by Abigail Spencer of Mad Men and Suits fame). The daughter of a noted historian (her mother), she works in the same college and in the same history department as her mother not only once did but helped to build into what it currently is. When she finds out that she is not getting the job as the department head, she is more than peeved as she thinks it is hers halfway by birthright, not to mention her stellar teaching credentials. She goes home where we learn that not only does she and her sister still live with her mother but that they do that for good reason: their mother is deathly ill and they stay to take care of her. Her younger sister is doing her best to play caretaker to their mother while Lucy is the breadwinner of the household. They are at home when Lucy receives a visit from some random government guy. What does this visit concern? Time, of course. 

Across the way, we meet one of our second main characters in Rufus Carlin (played by Malcolm Barrett). Rufus is one of the many scientists that works for a rich tech billionaire named Connor Mason (Paterson Joseph, recently of NBC’s You, Me and the Apocalypse) who has built a very curious machine that looks like an eye. We watch Rufus pine over Jiya (played by Claudia Doumit) who is also a computer nerd/coworker, and we also see Rufus talking to his boss on the project whose name I will mention later when he becomes more important. Without much explanation, we see a vehicle full of men roll up to the top secret Mason facility, hop out, and proceed to take over the building. Armed and jumpsuit-attired, they intimidate and threaten everyone in the room and yank Rufus’ boss away as their prisoner. They approach the strange-looking-eye machine, get in and proceed to frickin’ disappear in front of everyone, and you’re left wondering what the heck just happened.

And we’re back to historian Lucy. The government comes and gets her, brings her to the facility and locks her in a room with our third big character, soldier Wyatt Logan (played by Matt Lanter of the new 90210). A bit drunk and out of sorts, they try making small talk but he knows about as much as she does when it comes to reasons on why they were brought there. They get a quick rundown on what is happening and why they are there by a woman who is supposedly a government official.

The man that came in and did the whole hijacking thing with his crew is named Garcia Flynn (played by ER veteran Goran Visnjic), an ex-NSA asset previously stationed in eastern Europe. The "ex" is because he was accused of killing his wife and child about a year or so prior to his theft of the machine. What is the machine? You’ve guessed it by now: a time machine. "Apparently, Mason decided to secretly build a time machine and not tell the government about it until it got stolen" (my favorite line of the premiere episode).

Left to Right: Lucy, Conner Mason, Wyatt the soldier

The reason why Mason invented the machine that he gives is ridiculous: he didn’t count on this happening. In other words, he’s never seen not a single movie on time travel and about how going back in time, good intentions or not, can mess everything up if the traveler interacts in any way with any thing. With literally about two minutes of more explanation on how Garcia Flynn took the time machine back to the date the Hindenburg was set to explode into a fireball of death, Mason, and the government agent lady convince Lucy to go back in time to stop the guy because she is a historian and what greater rush could she get than to save history; Rufus to go because they will not only need a black guy to look out-of-place everywhere he goes, but they will need a pilot and he is the only one who knows the craft as well as the kidnapped guy; and the soldier to go because he’s a soldier, they might need someone to do dirty work in hunting this Garcia guy down and what better does he have to do? Seriously. Two minutes is not an exaggeration there. For reasons I still don’t understand, even though they have a time machine and know to what time he went, they don’t know where he went, Lucy just assumes that he went to the Hindenburg because she recognizes the date. Because of this, for whatever reason, they have to follow right after him immediately or risk losing him in time or having the timeline changing as they speak. Uh... OK.

Left to Right: Rufus, Wyatt, Lucy

They throw on some 1930s appropriate garb (as close as they could get it) and take off into the past in a backup time machine that Mason had built as the first prototype. Mama always said if you're gonna build one time machine, build two time machines. And here I point out how I actually think it is kind of cool that the two machines are eyes that travel back into history; they can see history unfolding before them. I see you, producers, trying to be poetic. The time and place correct, they stop to watch as the Hindenburg passes overhead, still a few hours away from making its fateful landing a couple towns over. Their mission: find Garcia and stop him from doing whatever he is there to do that will ruin history.

Into town they go where they meet up with a reporter who is one of many covering the landing of the majestic airship. The lady’s name familiar to her, Lucy recognizes that the woman is supposed to die in the Hindenburg crash, crushed beneath the metal framing of the blimp. Here we have our first quandary and get to know a little about soldier Wyatt. Wyatt is a widower whose wife died a while back under mysterious circumstances. Now, he’s a bit of a lush but manages. What’s important, however, is that his late wife looked just like the reporter woman. He feels compelled to save her and in some twisted way save his wife. When they follow her out to the landing field, he keeps his eye on her, even yanking her back from the brood of reporters gathered too closely to where the blimp was supposed to come down. The problem: it lands safely.

Lucy tells them that the ship was supposed to have its anchoring ropes (similar to a boat's docking rope) drag on the wet ground, completing the circuit of the current in the ship and thusly turning the electricity building up and flowing through the metal bones of the blimp into an all-consuming fire which would result in the lost souls of over 30 people both on and off-board. But what Garcia did was blend in with the grounds crew of the Hindenburg and instruct them to spool the rope around their arms as the anchoring tethers fell from the skies, thusly keeping the rope dry and everything in good condition.

What Was Supposed To Happen
But why? At first, Lucy can’t figure it out. Wyatt runs off and shoots a guy who he believed was working with Garcia. Rufus meanders about like a lost child in a department store as he knows his blackness is a problem in the 30s. Finally, they are arrested for shooting the guy and all end up in jail where they keep the negro separated from the whites (wouldn’t dare sully his white compatriots with his negroness) but right across from them. There, Lucy remembers that the returning flight of the Hindenburg was to feature all sorts of dignitaries, including a president and many prominent businessmen who would be instrumental in rebuilding the world after WWII in a few short years. Garcia didn’t spare the lives of those people out of the kindness of his heart, but because he wanted to kill the future US as we know it by killing some more important people.

After managing to escape the jail, we do a very strange time-space warp in which I could have sworn that the jail was somehow on the Hindenburg because they get to the blimp extremely quickly, find the reporter woman to tell her to get off the ship, only to find that they are already up in the air, and I’m like, “Whaaaaat?” Wouldn’t they have known that the blimp had suddenly taken off even if they were locked up on the actual Hindenburg? And if they were jailed on the blimp, uh... why? Why would the ship have a jail in the first place? Many questions, but I digress.

When they tell the reporter that there is a bomb on the ship placed there by Garcia, she helps them find it only to have their search interrupted by some musclemen working for Flynn to stop them. While Lucy and Rufus go to the captain’s deck to see if they can’t get the man to land again, Wyatt fights to disarm the bomb. As he and the reporter try escaping the guard guy, the man foolishly fires off a gun in the cabin of the Hindenburg, sending the bullet ricocheting and piercing through the thin blimp walls, causing a fire and bringing the thing down anyway. Not as many people dead, the main three manage to survive with the reporter. And then they are confronted by Garcia amidst the chaos.

Garcia talks directly with Lucy about what he is doing and intimates that he is doing this for a greater cause, is trying to save America, is doing this to stop a specific thing, and that she will eventually help him. How does he know this? Because she told him something personally, which she finds insane because she’s never met the guy. As he is trying to make his getaway, Wyatt sees him and tries shooting him. Garcia fires back, accidentally killing the reporter lady. Though her official death certificate lists cause of death as a gunshot wound, she still manages to die near the Hindenburg as originally expected.

Their time in... time done for now, the crew of three get back to modern-day times where they know that they’ve screwed up and just hope that they haven’t f-ed up too bad. Instead of the Hindenburg blowing up as it arrived due to electricity buildup, now it was brought down by a terrorist group that mysteriously disappeared and was never seen again. Not as many people died in the crash and the only people that know the original history are Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus as everyone else knows that they sent them after Mason but think that the changes made to the timeline were always how time unfolded. Thinking that maybe they didn’t change nearly as much as they thought they would have (the world is still intact. That’s a plus, right?), they each go back home until the government calls them again because they can identify when Garcia uses the machine. But upon Lucy’s return home she finds that not only is her mother not bedridden, spryly prancing around the kitchen, but her sister is gone, as in never existed. Oh, and she’s engaged, but not wearing her ring when before she didn’t even have time to have a boyfriend between taking care of her mother and teaching.

There Is Jiya on the left and Mason on the far right, with government lady in the middle

Episode two follows a little more of the fallout from what they did to the Hindenburg timeline as Lucy tries to understand what is happening. She wants only to know why she doesn’t have a sister anymore, and completely side-saddles the fact that she is engaged now. As she and the team go on another mission, she gets Jiya on the case to figure out where her little sister has disappeared to. It should be noted at this point that one of the rules of time travel the show has set up is that unlike in other time machine movies, in this one, there is a paradoxical reason for not going back to a time and place in which you already existed. Apparently, someone had done it and came back all ripped to shreds and Brundlefly, so hopping in the machine and going back to fix the Hindenburg is not really an option, hence why from the first episode forward everything is in the Hindenburg timeline. The case this week: the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by the dishonorable coward John Wilkes Boothe.

As the team goes back into time to the day before the fateful night at the playhouse, Wyatt and Rufus get dressed up as civil war soldiers and they start to see the effects not only of their ineffective costumes department but of bringing current-day things with them to the past. They believe it is Garcia’s ambitions to kill not only our 16th president but also General Grant and another man who would be president, all of whom would be in town that night if a train was prevented from leaving the city. The crippling of the train no problem, Garcia finds John Wilkes Boothe and swears to help him in his plan to kill a total of four men that night. They’ve brought automatic future guns with them to make everything easier, this way, he can kill the general and the president in a matter of milliseconds all with one gun before making his crippling leap onto the stage.

As the team searches the city for Boothe, they run into Lincoln’s eldest son in town to celebrate with his parents and show how good of a soldier General Grant has created in his army. Lucy catches his eye and gets invited to the play as his guest, making it the perfect opportunity for her to save General Grant’s life and here we have the conundrum that Wyatt feels again. Just like with the reporter, all three of our team know that they have to let Lincoln die to retain the sanctity of the timeline, but they feel sour at the prospect that they know this man will be shot point-blank in the back of the head, which will send the country down a dark time after just getting out of a dark time. Rufus, in particular, hates this after he made contact with real Black Northern-Blue soldiers and knew that they were moving into the lynching era. The soldiers even call him out in an Old-Tyme Stolen Valor (look it up on Youtube) way before he helps to save one of the four men that Boothe and Garcia targeted that night. Wyatt takes out another assassin actually in the house of one of the men spared by history, leaving it all up to Lucy to save General Grant who sits directly next to Lincoln and Mrs. Lincoln in the playhouse balcony. A rather poor attempt, she pours water on him in hopes that he’d leave and not come back but he does.

Just as Lucy is having problems with her historical figures, so is Garcia. He must knock Boothe unconscious and do the murder himself when the washed-up actor refuses to use the modern gun, preferring a knife instead for dramatic effect. Garcia and Lucy wrestle with the gun after she allows him to shoot Lincoln, and he jumps to the stage just like Boothe did, making his escape into the night. Not only did history change again in the Lincoln timeline, but Boothe was later arrested and his fellow conspirators were never found. Though this doesn’t seem to have any real effect on the modern-day, Lucy is confronted once again with something Garcia told her in the first episode. He mentioned a name of something, which sounds like a secret organization. As it turns out we see that not only does Mason and Rufus know about this secret organization, but Mason has tasked Rufus with recording everything he can of Wyatt and Lucy while on missions together. Why? It has something to do with this Garcia secret.

Finally, worst of all, Lucy gets home to Jiya’s research on her family history and learns that her mother and father from the original pre-Hindenburg timeline never met in this current Hindenburg timeline. In fact, he married a woman that survived from the Hindenburg’s maiden voyage. Her mother never married. How, then, does Lucy still exist if her parents never met? Because her father wasn’t really her father and her mother had been lying to her her entire life. Dun Dun Dunnnnn! I really enjoyed that twist, honestly. That, coupled with her finally meeting her husband-to-be were the late-show highlights. It should also be noted here that because of the way the show works, their first voyage back into time that changed things is the dominant timeline, meaning that while surely Boothe not shooting Lincoln had some effect on all post-1865 history, because they did a time-jump from an already sullied Hindenburg timeline that event will stay as it was changed by them. The Lincoln changes, though minor, will simply add too the changes already created. Therefore, the Hindenburg timeline is the dominating time and the Lincoln timeline is the secondary time within the first mistake. This means that every time they go back and legitimately change a major event, a new timeline within the already established timelines is created. Follow me? Yeah, it can get confusing.

Episode three sees the team going to the hoppin’ big band/crooner era of the early 1960s. Not a specifically important date in history, they end up following Garcia to Las Vegas, Nevada, or as it was called in that time Atomic City. Though JFK is there enjoying a mistress and a show, he is not necessarily the target. He has visited the city to partake in a concert by old blue eyes himself, and the dean of brown liquor, along with the rest of the Rat Pack. The target is really Kennedy’s mistress. A very famous woman in the underground world of powerful men, she knows and sleeps with everyone from the Prez to gangsters to high-ranking generals, and they all want her sugar as much as they can get it. This, of course, is pre-Marilyn Monroe days.

Garcia takes a few pictures of her and JFK kissing on each other in a hotel room as an atom bomb goes off in the background. See, about 60 miles outside of the city, the government is in the midst of testing its myriad of nuclear weapons, sending tons of radiation into the sky, the residual effects of which wouldn’t be known for decades. And that is the get. While Wyatt continues to mope about his dead wife who we now know died in 2012, they have a mission to figure out why Garcia wants the mistress and doesn’t want to kill any of the powerful men gathered in the city. Wyatt makes a pit stop to send his wife a carrier message way in the future a la Doc Brown sending Marty a message in Back To The Future II. Then they go chasing after the mistress.

Meanwhile, as they go after the mistress, Rufus sees his old boss and kidnap victim Anthony. He finds him unguarded in a Vegas bar and realizes that the man isn’t a prisoner at all, but is actually helping Garcia in his plan, whatever that plan is. He does let slip one thing that Rufus at first mistakes as a woman’s name. As it turns out, it isn’t a name of a person but the description of a thing, specifically the plutonium core of an atom bomb. Garcia and Anthony want to use the mistress’ ample clout with powerful men to get onto the US military base where all the atom bombs are being stored in Nevada and steal the plutonium in one bomb.
The group realizes this a second too late and catch Garcia and Anthony escaping with the core. Rufus talks to Anthony and thinks that he has convinced the man to do the right thing and give him the core, but gets tricked as Garcia and his people make their escape. Luckily, they left the mistress alive and didn’t change history that much, but the bad news is that Garcia now has one of the biggest, main tools to create an atom bomb. Instead of taking it onto the time machine where he doesn’t know how it’ll react to the warping of time, he makes Anthony bury it in the desert so they can come and dig it up near 60 years later in modern-day time.

Here, it should be noted that while episode one produced the alternate timeline and episode two produced a secondary branch in that alternate timeline, episode three does not necessarily produce an alternate timeline of its own. Why? Because, unlike in Hindenburg and Lincoln, little, if anything, is changed in Atomic City. No one is killed and even the plutonium stolen isn't taken through time but buried in its current time. They didn't even steal the actual warhead, and only damaged some property. The mistress continued in her beguiling ways and everything stayed the same. This establishes a very important rule here that time isn't as sensitive to the butterfly effect. So tweaking a few minor things won't change a big thing. Having the Hindenburg exploded at night instead of the morning and not kill the same people is a big thing. So is having Boothe be found knocked out in an alley during Lincoln's murder, but still have him cop to the plan.

The Eye Of History; Not The Prototype

What’s my grade? I give it a B-. This was one of my most-anticipated shows of the new season as I love the concept and hope to see more good sci-fi on network TV. But for a show about time travel, it seems that Timeless never has enough time to dwell on one thing too long. The first episode felt like it could have benefitted from a two-hour or hour and a half-long premiere as it moved a little too fast for me. I get that the concept is simple and would be posed simply to the team before they are a team, but I would need a little more convincing than a two-minute chat about jumping into a time machine before I actually jumped into a time machine. There was not only very little convincing, but very little doubt on behalf of Wyatt and Lucy—you can understand why Rufus wouldn’t have as much doubt. But thinking about it, Rufus seems to have the most doubt about going on the mission because he doesn’t think he’s qualified. Wyatt and Lucy had no moment of, “OK, you think you built a time machine? You’re absolutely crazy,” they just accepted it at face value and left that night, within half an hour. Not giving it the proper time made it feel less...noble, less daring.

Also, I don’t understand why they have to jump immediately after Garcia has jumped. I get that it is partially the only way they can make the show a weekly case-by-case format, but they have a time machine. They shouldn’t have to rush to get into the machine ill-prepared for what they’ll encounter and badly dressed. Each time they go, they get an hour tops to figure out where they need to go and why. It almost feels like they’re reading out of a history textbook instead of being proactive and going slightly before history happens. They are always one step behind him, rather than time-jumping a day earlier and figuring out where his machine might land and capturing him then.

The speed and pace at which the show flows is also too fast for any real character development. It zooms forward so quickly that the mission is started, botched and over before you really know what’s happened and before the characters are able to make a real impression. Abigail Spencer’s face is pretty much frozen in the same vapid, half-shocked expression all the time and there is little charm there between her and Wyatt (Rufus is OK as a character but they didn't explore that crush on Jiya hardly at all. Each episode feels neutered of its potential greatness. And worst of all is the way in which it is shot. With the exception of the time machine actually disappearing and re-appearing, much of the show’s budget is spent on costume and set design, but even that is far from stellar. Sadly, it feels and looks very much like something that came off of the Syfy channel, which is exactly where I see it ending up if it is canceled by NBC. I would predict a four or five season series on Syfy that would do fairly well. It is hard to see NBC keeping it unless it is getting some amazing ratings.

But on the plus side, I do like the cases they’ve done so far, and I also enjoy the many strands of mystery left to dangle: why is Garcia really doing this, who is Lucy’s real father, will Wyatt ever get his wife back, and what kind of spying is Rufus really doing? Also, the fact that they screwed up the first mission and can't simply go back to fix it is intriguing to me, because now it has set the rules that they can do whatever they want with the historical events, and watch the outcome of their missteps. If they somehow always got it right, rather than slightly off, it wouldn't be as compelling. How they deal with the new timelines will most likely be where much of the character development comes from, as evidenced by Lucy's touching moment with her fiance where she expresses that she needs space alone from him. Even though it ticks me off that she hardly gave the relationship any chance (she must have found something great about him in that timeline), I and other viewers I'm sure felt the ice around my heart gradually warm when he accepted her request so easily. For a second you could see a twinkle in her eye where things start to click in her brain: "So this is why I love you." I'd like to see Rufus' life outside of work, too, but that might take some time.

Should you be watching? Not sure, leaning towards no. I hate doing that because I really want this show to continue so I can get some answers to my questions, but I know that there are a lot of people who still don’t like sci-fi, and watching a less-than-phenomenal show will not engender new fans to the genre. This time-hopping isn't as complicated as in other movies or shows like Terminator or even Timecop. It's very easy to follow but doesn't hit on all cylinders and may border on being too easy to follow. As far as time travel theorists, I don't think this show would produce as much argumentation on whether this theoretical concept is shown accurately or not. Timeless does not care about going off of other people's past theories. It is perfectly satisfied with doing its own thing and only hopes you'll be along for the ride. Suspend disbelief or don't, but either way, don't complain. Timeless airs on NBC Mondays at 10pm EST.

What do you think? Have you seen Timeless? If not, do you think you’ll check it out? If you have, what is your favorite part? Do you think this should get a full season order? And who do you really think Garcia is? Is he from the future or what? Let me know in the comments below (hint: click the no comments button if you see no comments).

Check out my 5-star comedy novel, Yep, I'm Totally Stalking My Ex-Boyfriend. #AhStalking
If you’re looking for a scare, check the YA novel #AFuriousWind, the NA novel #DARKER#BrandNewHome or  the bizarre horror #ThePowerOfTen. For those interested in something a little more dramatic and adult, check out #TheWriter. Both season 1 and season 2 are out NOW, exclusively on Amazon. Stay connected here for updates on season 3 coming summer 2017. If you like fast action/crime check out #ADangerousLow. The sequel A New Low will be out in a few months. Look for the mysterious Sci-fi episodic novella series Extraordinary to premiere sometime this winter on Amazon and my blog. Join us on Goodreads to talk about books and TV, and subscribe to and follow my blog with that Google+ button to the right.

Until next time, "Great Scott! Those self-lacing Nikes are gonna cost how much?”

P.S. Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about because you totally do. Sad to say but this show just ain't Back To The Future (yes, I had to say that a few times through the review just because October 21st is Back To The Future Day), and just doesn't have the wacky fun that a time-traveling show might sometimes have.

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