The unbearable stupidity of time travel TV

December 6, 2016


Lawrance Bernabo
Zenith News

China does not allow Western movies dealing with time travel. I assumed this was because the Chinese might get crazy ideas about going back in time and taking out Chairman Mao. However, given the new television series that deal with time travel, I am beginning to suspect the Chinese object to time travel stories because they tend to be kind of stupid.

The chief joy of Timeless (NBC) is watching plucky history professor Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer) interact with the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Ian Fleming, and Davy Crockett. The show is 99 percent fiction and one percent science. The infamous “Butterfly Effect” comes into play in the pilot, when Preston and her compatriots return from dealing with the Hindenburg disaster to discover that Preston’s invalid mother is now healthy, her kid sister no longer exists, and her boyfriend has been replaced by a fiancé who is a complete stranger.

You have to think things will only get worse week after week, but no matter how much they change who dies and when at the Alamo or whatever, they always come back to the same world from the end of the pilot, yet—pretend this stuff is real for a minute—such changes would start a chain reaction that would make everything different.

If anything, they should be coming back to a world where their time machine had never been created. Of course, then they would have a show about three people stuck in a unfamiliar world with no way to get back to their former lives, which means no more chats with Wernher von Braun or Deep Throat.


Frequency (CW) makes the transition from movie to television series, changing the father from a firefighter to a police detective and the son into a daughter. The father’s old ham radio allows their adult offspring to have conversations with their dead parent. The common elements are saving the father from an untimely death and investigating a serial killer.

The pilot covered the first half, with Raimy Sullivan (Peyton List) warning her father, Frank (Riley Smith), to avoid being killed in an undercover operation. Unfortunately, in saving her father, Raimy changes the world and the serial killer ends up killing her mother. Now Raimy and Frank work across time to solve the murders before her mother becomes the next victim.

At least with Frequency, alterations to the past immediately manifest in the present. The plan seems to be playing out the search for the Nightingale killer and, as Twin Peaks and The Killing proved, if the Sullivans do not find the killer and save mom by the end of the first season, fans will abandon the show. Then the question becomes how to milk the idea for another season.

Meanwhile, on The Flash (CW), I have lost count of the alternate realities created by the Flash to go back in time and save his mother, then go back in time and not save his mother. At least the television version has better reasons for time travel than the comic book character did when he made his first Silver Age appearances.

Back in the day, time travel episodes were a rare treat and they usually worked. Star Trek had “The City on the Edge of Forever,” which was classic; “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” which was okay; and “Assignment: Earth,” which was blah. Star Trek: The Next Generation had the alternative history of “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and the time loop of “Cause and Effect,” but then they overdid it. Picard being unstuck in time with Q is one thing, but “Time’s Arrow” was just too cute.

When it comes to time loops, I will always have a special place in my heart for the hysterical first half of “Mystery Spot” on Supernatural.

And now for some deep thoughts on other shows:

The Walking Dead (AMC) season premier affected the show’s bifurcated audience in completely different ways. Those who read the comic books (if you get it monthly) or the graphic novels (if you get it seasonally) were going, “I see what you guys are doing there,” as the show played with our knowledge about the deaths of Abraham and Glen, not to mention Rick’s right hand. Those who only watch the TV show were freaking out.

Somebody on Grey’s Anatomy (ABC) finally looked at all the outrageous stuff that happens at Seattle Grace Mercy Death Hospital and decided that, for a teaching hospital, these doctors do not know what the hell they are doing. It reminds me of the Star Trek where they counted up all the times Captain Kirk had violated the prime directive. Sort of a meta-critical approach.

I saw a trailer for The Young Pope (HBO). If you are going to hell, you might as well run full speed, right?

Speaking of hell, the Geena Davis character on The Exorcist (FOX) turns out to be Regan MacNeil all grown up with a different name, because Mommie Dearest wrote a tell-all way back when? This series is so much better than Exorcist 2, but, then, what isn’t?

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