Tag Archives: Time Travel

Sorry, Not Sorry: NBC’s Timeless resists the “serialized rabbit hole,” and is better for it

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Timeless—debuting tonight at 10/9c on NBC—is a strikingly old-fashioned television show at its core.

This is not intended as a slight—the show is, inherently, a throwback to the likes of Quantum Leap or something like Sliders, where episodic time travel is used as an anchor for a combination of standalone adventures and ongoing thematic character work. And when executive producers Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan arrived to present the show as part of NBC’s press tour presentation, they weren’t hiding this old-fashionedness. Where some shows might have run away screaming from the idea of being a throwback to a late 80s time traveling procedural as three characters (a professor, a former soldier, and a technician) travel through time to stop a would-be terrorist, they were more than happy to cite Quantum Leap as an inspiration point, even as a contrast to a more “quality” time travel brand like 12 Monkeys.

It’s a refreshing position, although a somewhat uncommon one, and one that somewhat contradicts the way the show’s pilot contorts itself to assure the viewer that it contains meaningful serialized elements: like most modern pilots, Timeless ends with lots of complications that create questions for future episodes, an instant mythology that will play out over the course of the coming season. But whereas I could imagine a world where the producers promised that this wasn’t “just a procedural,” Ryan insisted something different on the show’s panel: “this isn’t a show that is going to fall down a serialized rabbit hole.”

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Season Finale: Fringe – “The Day We Died”

“The Day We Died”

May 6th, 2011

While I intended on writing something following the Fringe finale all week, I expected it to be a piece about how my general distance from the series made the finale less satisfying than it may have been for its hardcore fans. As the anticipation has been building online, I found myself with absolutely no investment in the series or its characters: while John Noble continues to give a really tremendous performance, the entire back end of the season has squandered a lot of the engagement I had with the series. I wasn’t looking forward to explaining why, to be honest: I don’t think there’s a simple answer, and I don’t exactly wear my inability to be a “fan” of this show as some sort of badge of honor.

However, it turns out that my lack of attachment is maybe the only thing keeping me from feeling outright ripped off by this awkward, poorly written, and yet unquestionably ballsy finale. In the final moments of “The Day We Died,” the show throws a hail mary that is designed to have fans both panicking and frantically revisiting previous episodes to discover either a loophole or some sort of reasoning for such a drastic turn of events.

For me, meanwhile, it’s the one breath of life in an episode which created too many problems for itself to properly tap into any of the pathos introduced earlier in the season, returning instead to vague generalities mapped onto poorly defined MacGuffins of little import or value. And, thankfully, I didn’t care enough to be outraged about it.

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How I Met Your Mother – “The Window”

“The Window”

December 7th, 2009

There are moments where it feels as if Robin Scherbatsky exists entirely to be ignorant to the various long-standing mythologies that exist in How I Met Your Mother’s universe. Inevitably, when something new to us is introduced, Robin is the one asking “what’s that?” And such we enter “The Window,” as we discover (through Robin) that Ted Mosby has been on a nine-year journey to bag a college pal and yet has been foiled every time.

The way the show is able to use Robin to justify its exposition, almost always told through a casual conversation at McLaren’s or in Ted and Robin’s apartment, is part of why these stories are able to move so smoothly. In just moments, the stage has been set for what is yet another potential love story waiting to happen, fate and destiny fighting against reality. And by nicely balancing some more emotional beats for Josh Radner’s Ted with some broader comedy as the rest of the gang tries to keep the window from closing, the episode manages to entertain while also providing the sort of heartwarming conclusion (albeit with a twist) that HIMYM is so great at.

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Lost – “Follow the Leader”

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“Follow the Leader”

May 6th, 2009

There is something very jarring about “Follow the Leader,” which isn’t really that surprising. As, essentially, the season’s penultimate episode before next week’s two-hour finale, it was bound to be a transition episode, but in the second half of this season it felt like a more substantial transition than we’re used to. The show has been doing a lot more traditional episodes in the back end: Sayid, Ben, Miles and to a certain extent Faraday all had quite simple episodes that relied on the show’s old flashback structure to deliver character pieces for their individual focuses.

This week’s episode didn’t do anything even close to this, in many ways proving one of the least connective episodes in quite some time. The episode was almost entirely without a key theme, and ended with a cliffhanger that was less a huge shock than it was a subtle ramping up of tension. Episodes that only move pieces around are not that uncommon in this series or any other serial drama, but this one in particular felt really vague and distant: this isn’t to say that it was a bad episode, but rather that the big picture never really became any more focused as time went on.

If I had to draw attention to one element of the episode that perhaps explains this, I’ll point to Richard Alpert, who was the source of almost every cut between past and present. It’s no coincidence that this character unaffected by the flow of time would be the one constant in these two stories, and the one man who has always remained an unsolvable enigma that, even with a few clues dropped here and there, has never become more focused in his own right. He also sits in a unique position as it relates to the episode’s title: he’s never actually been the leader, always remaining nothing but the advisor, and it raises important questions about his role in this legacy.

And yet it doesn’t answer any of them, or really any of the questions we have: rather, it puts all the pieces into place for a finale that might get around to some of those pesky questions.

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Lost – “The Variable”

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“The Variable”

April 29th, 2009

I will admit right now that I feel sort of like a low rent Daniel Faraday right now, my attempts to put myself on a different sleep schedule in a way not that different from Daniel’s attempt to realign himself with another time. This means that while I had planned on writing this review about five hours ago when I woke up from a short nap designed to prepare me for an eight-hour night shift this evening, instead I’m writing it after six hours of sleep and will have to skip Thursday night television in order to try to find some nap time.

I share this story not just because of my recent tweet about potentially mixing more personal anecdotes with blog posts, but also because it’s an example of providing some greater context to events, which is essentially the point of “The Variable.” The episode really only has two functions: it serves as an escalation of the “plot” (remember that thing?) that has been mostly dormant since our cast ended up in the 1970s, giving us a sense of how the end of the season is going to develop, and it serves as an answer to the question of what Daniel Faraday has been up to since we last saw him trapped in 1974 with everyone else and nobody is really talking about him.

Perhaps it’s the weird sleep schedule, or that I wasn’t feeling great when I watched the episode, but I was kind of disappointed by this, the show’s 100th episode, at least on the latter point. At times feeling like another drop in the “parental neglect” bucket for the show, the tragic journey of Daniel Faraday was strong in isolation and yet when applied to the rest of the episode and the rest of the series felt too inorganic. Yes, I empathize with Daniel, primarily thanks to Jeremy Davies’ strong performance, but at the end of the day it felt as if Faraday’s storyline was tied so closely to the island that his individuality, and its connection to our other characters, was lost in the plot.

I understand that this is the entire “point” of the episode, but I found it a little bit clumsy in its execution even if I feel they’re ramping things up at the right pace as we march towards the finale.

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Lost – “Whatever Happened, Happened”

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“Whatever Happened, Happened”

April 1st, 2009

[I’m still technically on a blogging hiatus (hence, if you were wondering, my lack of coverage of Chuck, or HIMYM, or the season premieres of Greek and My Boys), but I learned my lesson last year when it comes to Lost – when I went back to revisit past reviews, I found that I hadn’t reviewed “The Constant,” and that fact still haunts me to this day. As a result, Lost is one show I want to consistently recap, even if doing so will become more challenging over the next couple of weeks as I prepare/participate in/recover from my trip to Los Angeles.]

“Whatever Happened, Happened” is an odd episode in the sense that it is most definitely eventful in terms of its on-island material, certainly one that I couldn’t resist blogging about, as the fallout from last week’s episode becomes a struggle between life and death, between right and wrong, between past and present, but its off island material (and much of its subtext within the main storyline) surrounds one of the show’s more consistently weak elements, a love triangle that has turned into a square without an uptick in real interest. It’s an unorthodox episode for Lindelof and Cuse to tackle themselves, at least on the surface.

Very quickly, though, we realize that this episode isn’t about Kate’s relationship with Jack, or Kate’s relationship with Sawyer, but actually about Kate. It’s the first time in a long time that she has emerged as a character in her own right, less interested in discovering who she was or even who she is, and discovering instead what role she is supposed to be playing. Too often, Kate has been a foil and not a real character, and when you really consider it she hasn’t had a substantial or effective episode in a long time.

This one isn’t perfect, but with Lindelof and Cuse at the helm we get a couple of tantalizing hints, a predictable but well executed “flash” for Ms. Austen, and a compelling if not groundbreaking metaconversation about time travel – I’ll take that.

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Lost – “Namaste”

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“Namaste”

March 18th, 2009

At the very beginning of Lost’s first season, orientation was a common relationship for all of our characters: all of them had their own baggage, their own identities, but all of them had in common that struggle to reorient their lives in such a way as to fit into this new island structure. We see Jack trying to associate his pre-island struggles with his father and with medicine with his new role as a leader, to uneven success, just as we see Kate come to terms with her crimes and her culpability in the wake of what is essentially a fresh start. Even if some people oriented themselves faster than others, or more successfully than others, everyone had to start at that basic point.

But in “Namaste,” that balance is entirely skewed – if the term means “I bow to you,” then many amongst the show’s cast have no idea who, or what, to bow to anymore. There are three sets of people on the island in these two different time periods: one set who has been there for three years and has become part of the culture (Sawyer, Juliet, Miles, Jin), one that has been there before but finds this new territory disturbing regardless of the time period (the Oceanic Six, Frank, Ben), and those who are experiencing it all for the first time (Caesar and the group left back by the Hydra). The problem is that, for the first group, they are part of the culture: they went through orientation, they saw the videos, and now they are integral parts of the structure of this island and its history. Everyone else, meanwhile, is starting anew, but for some of these characters you can’t just stop yourself from recognizing a new captive as an old friend, or reacting when you first see an old lover for the first time.

This isn’t a mind-blowing episode of Lost in terms of major revelations, but it fills in some key gaps that we hadn’t quite pieced together in the last few episodes, and draws attention to our central conflict. The show is purposefully trying to reboot itself in the middle of a season, knowing full well that it’s impossible – that impossibility is embodied by the characters, the characters who are either trapped separated by decades from the people they came to see or those trapped in the distant past with no clue as to their mission. Just as they can’t forget about the past, pretend like nothing happened, neither can I, and this kind of narrative disconnect in fact sends us back to these characters, and even back to past events in previous seasons, to get a real sense of what has changed.

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