Because my daughter is such a fan of “The Voice,” I almost accidentally began watching the new NBC time-travel series “Timeless” since it immediately follows the “American Idol” knock-off.

Scientist Rufus Carlin has invented the world’s first time machine, but unfortunately for us all, unscrupulous former NSA agent Garcia Flynn and some henchmen steal it. Flynn’s goal is to alter history by preventing the United States from becoming a (super)power.

But unfortunately for Flynn, he forgot to take into account Carlin’s prototype time device (see below) which, although it looks much clunkier than the stolen model, works perfectly well. And even worse for Flynn — it can be used to track the stolen, newer machine’s movements through the timestream..

The first adventure takes place at the Hindenburg disaster — which still does occur, just not how we remember it thanks to our protagonists. After Carlin confirms that this point in time indeed is where Flynn has journeyed, he is joined by historian Lucy Preston and Delta Force member Wyatt Logan in an attempt to capture the renegades and the stolen timeship. Flynn’s plan in this case was to destroy the famous dirigible on its way back to Europe — as it was carrying numerous prominent Americans to the coronation of King George and Queen Elizabeth.

Carlin and co. believe that since the Hindenburg still burst into flames and fell into ruins (just not the way it was supposed to) that they prevented any serious alteration of the timeline. But this is not the case: Preston discovers, once back in the present, that her mother is no longer on chronically ill, and worse, her sister no longer exists.

The best of the four episodes to air thus far was the second, where the team tracks Flynn back to the date of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. And it’s really here that the show really misses the opportunity to be radically different.

Scientist Carlin, who’s black, asks historian Preston why the team simply can’t save Lincoln from John Wilkes Booth’s bullet … in an attempt to make the future (much) better for African-Americans. It’s a rather compelling argument, but Preston adamantly refuses on the premise that they have no idea what the overall effects of such a drastic altering of events would entail.

Logically, it’s hard not to disagree with that. But wouldn’t saving our 16th president be a lot more interesting than Preston trying to figure out what happened to her sister? Or Logan trying to resurrect his dead wife? Why not examine how black Americans would have fared under a continuing Lincoln administration (and policies)?

Carlin (played by Malcolm Barrett) does a great job conveying the emotional angst over this issue — I was hoping his argument would prevail, or, at least he’d act unilaterally. Let’s face it — the stakes aren’t (weren’t) exactly small.

The problem is that “Timeless” operates under the premise of a “closed loop” time geometry — the actions of changing events in the past will affect that same timeline’s future. If saving Lincoln created an alternate timeline — the other theory dealing with the consequences of altering past events — Carlin and co. might have been more inclined to act.

By not taking big risks like saving Lincoln, sadly, “Timeless” ends up being yet another formulaic, offers-no-surprises assembly line drama.

For yours truly, it has become exceedingly difficult over the last decade or so to find a new network/cable TV offering worth sticking with. “The Walking Dead,” the most recent show I regularly watched, lasted only three and a half seasons for me, and that was stretching it. It essentially became the same thing week after week after week.

Of the three other fairly recent faves of mine — “Nip/Tuck,” “Battlestar Galactica,” and “Fringe” — only the last remained true enough to its origins to stick with until the end.

“Nip/Tuck” took its adult theme warning to the limit each and every week and was so outrageously different in its  first two seasons as to be must-viewing. I liken its fall to that of “Friends” — the character entanglements became so convoluted and silly that the show became an eye-roller and yawn-inducer.

“Battlestar” started out similarly; however, as I chronicled at the time at The Colossus of Rhodey, the political lecturing started seeping in. The posturing initially didn’t make much sense (the few remaining humans refuse to take advantage of a means to wipe out their killers), and later became outrageous as the writers appeared to possess no sense of moral certitude (not to mention, they seemed to wing it, plot-wise, the last season-season and a half).

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About the Author Dave Huber

After serving Delaware's public schools for a quarter century, Dave now devotes his efforts to The College Fix (thecollegefix.com) which exposes progressive lunacy on college campuses. He maintained The Colossus of Rhodey blog for many years, and has contributed to the Advanced Iron fanzine and media bias site Newsbusters. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.

16 comments

  1. Yeah, I basically agree with this. I watched the first episode and kinda thought it would be interesting, but I just stopped watching it as I felt Frequency handles the time-travel-esque concept better. At least on that show, they’re willing to alter the future and then are left dealing with the consequences as they try to fix it again.

  2. The only time travel show I currently watch is “Legends of Tomorrow.” It occasionally gets preachy, but lately it seems the writers have embraced the whole time-traveling superhero premise and are having fun with it at last. I’m a bit worried about this week’s episode, though, since it involves the Civil War.

    And I respectfully disagree with you on Fringe. It lost me in its third season, and I had a hard time keeping up with the multiple versions of Olivia, Walter, etc.

    1. Carl, we may have to talk.

      I am REALLY trying to stick with LoT (it has Firestorm! I must!) but… man it’s getting to the point I can’t tune it out any more.

      Going to the 50s? The rich, tech billionaire yelling, “I love the New Deal!” Yeah… I could end up buying that (because a lot of billionaires can be stupid) but it’s just getting over the top.

  3. The Flash actually does this, exploring (spoilers) what happens when The Flash saves his mother (of course they are just following flashpoint),

    The good part is that they end up forcing The Flash to deal with most of the change, as his attempt to fix it can’t put things completely right (and….gives the director a chance to fix/screw up and change things to his liking LOL) …though admittedly, it seems we are just given a friendship reset, rather than a real substantial change.

  4. Thanks for reminding me of Battlestar Galactica…when the last season rolled around and Ronald Moore’s philosophy and plans for the show became clear, everything was destroyed by it, even the previous seasons…Dualla blowing her own head off, everyone agreeing to a agrarian life in a craphole and the great circle of life garbage made me regret finishing it. I should have walked when Starbuck started complaining about kill markers…really Moore?! He must have been the guy they wanted to towel party at the academy

    1. It might be all done but that doesn’t mean it can be changed up. Like, every food possibly editable for humans has been done, but each meal is different in its own way.

      I’m breaking down because I used to do a comic week. One week I suddenly realized, Supergirl, Flash and Legends of Tomorrow (I save Arrow for Netflix viewing) ALL HAD THE SAME PLOT – “Women struggling against a male authority figure” along with a side plot of “male struggling against male relative” (Supergirl was only exception on the side plot).

      These are all becoming the same damn show!

  5. I think it would be hilarious for a time-travel series to have “present” history get progressively more and more bollixed up, and /nothing/ ever get straightened out — just keep getting crazier and crazier (until some sort of satisfying plateau or resolution is achieved).

    Another funny possibility would be to create time rules in which you can do nearly anything, and history just keeps on fluidly filling in the changes so that 99% of everything remains stable. In other words, throw the brittle butterfly-effect view of history into the dumpster, and go with a “putty” view. Save Lincoln from Booth’s gun, but Lincoln gets run over that same night by a horse and carriage. Stepping on one butterfly changes nothing. Or he’s struck by lightning, and Andrew Johnson still becomes president.

    Or the characters fear in mounting desperation that they’re messing up history, and it turns out history was already messed up, and everything they’re doing is /fixing/ it. That Lincoln was /supposed/ to have been a cat named George, owned by Marty Todd.

  6. Great article, I must say that I really enjoyed Fringe. I like the Netflix Marvel shows but they even shove in some political views. Super Girl is fun but it hits you over the head too much with feminism talking points rather than just letting the great character speak for herself.

    1. “Super Girl is fun but it hits you over the head too much with feminism talking points rather than just letting the great character speak for herself.”

      Agreed, Captain Frugal. I enjoy the show as well (Melissa Benoist does a great job, plus she’s really cute), but I can’t stand the feminist talking points or the thinly-veiled attacks on opponents of illegal immigration. That episode with Lynda Carter as a Hillary Clinton stand-in was really bad. It was probably the worst case of political pandering I’ve ever seen in a TV show. Plus, I didn’t like how Maggie Sawyer put down her hometown in Nebraska by saying they didn’t understand because she was a “non-white lesbian.” Way to paint an entire state as “bigots,” CW!

      I also loved how Kara’s new boss Snapper Carr was presented as a “bad guy” for telling her to keep her opinions to herself when writing objective news articles, even though most people are going to agree with him. In that same episode there was a swipe at Trump’s supporters, when Kara referred to Lex Luthor as a member of “the xenophobic right.”

      On a more positive note, I thought Tyler Hoechlin was a great Superman and even better than the Henry Cavill Superman. Cavill’s Superman is pretty bland and uninteresting. Hoechlin really captured the essence of the character well. I’d be happy if he got his own TV show.

    2. Carl, you just said everything that bothered me about that episode. I must also admit that I find Melissa to be very cute:)

  7. Melissa is as cute as a bug, but I just can’t sit through any more leftist propaganda.

    The time travel paradox (“If you go back in time and kill grandpa…?”) has been done to death. IIRC, the original Twilight Zone dealt with it a couple of times. I think there was one where a time traveler tried to warn people of the Chicago fire, but it started a panic, a lantern got knocked over, and the fire started that way. (If you try to change history, you become part of the event, and everything plays out the same anyway.)

    In Silver Age DC comics, there were a couple of stories where Superman or Superboy went back in time and tried to prevent some historical tragedy (e.g., the Lincoln assassination), and always failed. Their across-the-board rule was that history could not be changed, no matter what. (Of course, in a series, the status quo has to be maintained, and everything has to be back to normal by the next episode.)

    Then there is the premise that history can be changed, but then you start a chain of events that makes matters worse (Harlan Ellison’s “The City On the Edge of Forever,” Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder”).

    I’d be afraid to go back in time and start fooling around with stuff. Might save an innocent person from being killed in a traffic accident, but then come back and find that the Nazis won WWII. Or, worse, step on an insect, then come back to 2016 and find that the only viable presidential candidates are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

    1. “Then there is the premise that history can be changed, but then you start a chain of events that makes matters worse (Harlan Ellison’s ‘The City On the Edge of Forever,’ Ray Bradbury’s ‘A Sound of Thunder’).

      I’d be afraid to go back in time and start fooling around with stuff. Might save an innocent person from being killed in a traffic accident, but then come back and find that the Nazis won WWII.”

      Have you been reading my notes for a book I plan on writing down the line? 😉 My research has involved reading William L. Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.”

  8. I remember that one other time the BBC tried a time travel show other than Doctor Who. Crime Traveler it was called, it was a disaster. One issue of UK sci-fi mag SFX occasionally ran an article called “Give _ another chance”, but when faced with presenting a case for Crime Traveler, instead of an article, they just a double-page spread with the words “NOPE”

    And yeah, Battlestar Galactica’s writers were actually very open about winging it. In the documentaries for series four, Moore told the team it wasn’t about the story structure, but about the characters by that point, so long as you gave their arcs some gravitas, everything else could be ignored. It’s clear they had 4.20 sessions when the Jimmi Hendrix music became both a Cylon activation signal the jump coordinates for Earth.

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