Like so many other nerd-favorite shows before it, “Timeless” on NBC has been in something of a fight for its life since the very beginning. Ratings haven’t been super strong for this time-traveling, crime-fighting, history-informed drama, but the people who do watch it seem to be VERY passionate about its continued existence.
The show is just wrapping season 2, and there are questions about whether NBC will renew it. This is very similar to what was happening as the show wrapped season 1, and there were questions about whether NBC would renew it. This time around, the show has some famous fans rooting for its renewal, including pop star Kelly Clarkson and comedian Leslie Jones.
But beyond all of the talk about the show’s network fate, there’s MY opinion to consider … and in this case we have a show that has won me over after not impressing me much in the beginning.
My wife found this show on Hulu as she was casting about for something new to watch during a recent lull in our regular shows (stuff like “The Americans,” which is coming to its own end very soon, though on its own story-driven terms). When she described the plot to me, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the very dumb time-travel comedy “Making History” that aired very briefly last year on Fox starring comedian Adam Pally as a down-on-his-luck son of an inventor who travels back to revolutionary times to get a girlfriend, and winds up enlisting a friend who happens to be a local history professor to travel back and forth with him … in a time machine made out of an oversized gym duffel, for some reason. Like I said, it’s very dumb. But I like Adam Pally, so I gave it a shot, OK?
(As I said, the time machine was a giant gym duffel)
Still, the stench of that show was fresh on my mind as I learned of this new, more serious show about a trio of government-hired hands (one is a history professor, natch), traveling through time in pursuit of a baddie who is doing some seriously messed up stuff to history, or so it seems.
The first four or five episodes all followed the same formula: Good guys’ magic computer tells them the bad guy has traveled in time (and always with a precise date and time and location; how convenient!), the good guys pile into their time machine to go to the same time and place, and through the evidently photographic historical memory of Lucy, the professor, they always suss out the bad guy’s intentions to muck with history at this specific dot on the timeline. And inevitably, they run into some very famous historical figures, including presidents and actors and inventors, etc. But in the end, *spoiler alert* the good guys always do enough to “save history,” and the bad guy always stays a step ahead on the way to the next stop through time.
Now, as a nerd, I like historical references. I even liked learning a couple tidbits I didn’t know about the American revolution from “Making History.” And so I enjoyed the bits of history (many I already knew, but it’s still cool to see them woven into a popular network series) in the early episodes of “Timeless.” What I did not enjoy, as a nerd and a regular TV viewer, was the couple of plot holes so large you could fit a time machine through them, nor did I enjoy the somewhat stilted acting, the sometimes cringey dialogue, or the repetitive “chase, search, fight, repeat” plot of those early episodes. It felt like it was spinning in place, not going anywhere particularly interesting.
And we didn’t know anything about the bad guy’s motives. We kept getting, in hushed tones, these statements about it being very important for him to do things like collaborate with the Nazis, even though he doesn’t want to, and the formerly nice guy helping him jump through time DEFINITELY doesn’t like it, but he continues to do it anyway. And that’s all you get for the first four or five hours of viewing. It was enough to make my wife and me give up on the show.
But over the last few months (we discovered the show well after season 1 had aired), I kept seeing a few friends post about the show on Facebook, and I started to hear about the popular uprising to keep it on the air starting to take shape. And I thought “did the show catch its stride, or does everyone else just have bad taste?”
As inclined as I sometimes am to believe the latter, something about the show stuck in my mind and I decided to give it another shot. As if by magic, the very next episode my wife and I watched introduced some major plot developments that made the show much more enjoyable and even somewhat gripping. And the acting and writing even seemed to be rejuvenated by a new sense of purpose and drive.
I’m not here to tell you this is the greatest show on TV or anything like that. In fact this may already be too many words about what is ultimately a fun but unserious show for nerds. But if there’s anything you should know about me, it’s that being verbose about unserious things is one of my favorite pastimes. The old entries on this blog are evidence of that.
This show is at turns hokey, frustrating, poorly written, poorly acted, inspiring, educational, satisfying, fun, and more fun. It ain’t Shakespeare, but one thing I’ve realized over the last few years is when I sit down to watch a movie or TV show, I just want to be entertained. Being made to think or examine my feelings or be haunted by existential questions are all nice, but I can’t reasonably demand that of everything I ever consume (besides, it’d be pretty exhausting if everything did that to me). Sometimes it’s just nice to watch actors in period costumes fire modern weapons at unwitting (and sometimes very witting) baddies across time, and then share a kiss or some inspiring words, etc., etc., roll credits.
Even if “Timeless” only winds up being these two seasons, I think they’re worth your time if you’re a certain flavor of nerd who likes history and action and time travel logistics you can argue about with your other nerd friends. And if it goes to a third season, I can tell you pretty definitively that I’ll be watching that, too.