This Week in TV: Oct. 2-8 Part #1

Apologies for my absence last week; things got pretty hectic around my household with the ending of regular season baseball, and the debut of Luke Cage. I was taking part in the coverage of Netflix’s newest release over at Project Fandom. Check out what a few other ProFans and myself thought here: http://projectfandom.com/category/tv/recaps/luke-cage-s1/

This Week in TV: Two newcomers add their takes to the ever-growing trend of time travel TV shows. Each one presents its own method for exploring the past, but only one of them truly exhibits promise for its future.

* These are merely my thoughts and feelings on all the new television we’ve been blessed with, and my opinion on whether or not they are worth a watch. These aren’t recaps, so it’s a relatively spoiler free zone – but NOT entirely. Continue at your own risk!

Timeless (NBC) 6/10 – I’ll be back for two more episodes, then, we’ll see.

A time travel procedural, where a trio of experts journey back in time to stop a group of criminals from changing history as we know it.

As much as I talk about the importance of, and excitement in, bringing something new to today’s saturated TV scene, there are a handful of shows I watch that are as simplistic and derivative as they come. It’s kind of nice to have a show capture my attention for 30-60 minutes, and require no further consideration until I realize another episode is airing – or, for the most part, has already aired. There is, of course, a line I draw in terms of what’s acceptable in this sense. Settling for mediocrity in a select few shows doesn’t mean I’ll ever give a pass to something offensive, where there is nothing more to the joke or statement than laughing or pointing the finger at the Other. Simply put, there is never a good reason for punching down. I’ll also never allow myself to become complacent with gimmicks and tropes, or the various ways in which a show can sometimes handhold or nudge the audience. As long as I can point out the flaws and realize what kind of B.S. the show is trying to pull, I feel like I’m still making an informed viewing choice. For example, The Walking Dead, it used to be great, I know it’s not anymore, but I’m still on board.

Based on its pilot, Timeless feels as though it’s going to settle nicely into this category. The premiere was trying to be part sci-fi, part historical drama, and part mystery, which left it feeling wholly vague. I’m certain this genre mash-up is possible, but this particular attempt was unsuccessful. In part, I feel this has a lot to do with the pace at which the show was moving. While the sense of urgency for the situation at hand did lend itself to creating an atmosphere of heightened conflict, it sacrificed time that could have been better spent developing the characters. It’s worth saying that other shows (like the other one covered in this article) have been effective at throwing the viewer right into the action of its pilot, while utilizing that time to develop its characters. Timeless’ main trio, though, remain superficial by the end of the episode. It’s possible the purpose of Timeless’ pilot was to immediately immerse us into its week-to-week procedural format, thereby helping us cultivate a quick understanding of it, and leave the development of its characters for later. That’s fine, but it’s a contributing factor to it not ending up on my A-List of TV.

Another aspect, one that, should it be repeated, would forcibly remove Timeless from my B-List, was the way in which I feel racism was used for a laugh. Rufus, a black man, was forced to wait outside of a bar because of the looks he was getting for simply being black in the 1930’s. If the moment was meant to be profound it failed, and if it was meant to be funny it really failed. It was uncomfortable, cheap, and tacky, to say the least. Women weren’t fairing too well either in the 30s, and it would have been nice to see some solidarity from Lucy. There’s a missed opportunity in here for saying something deeper about our horrible collective history. Since I doubt the show will be making any such statements, though, at the very least it could have been used to foster some connection between Rufus and Lucy. The one saving grace here – and this could easily be tarnished as the season progresses – is that, seemingly, there’s a more meaningful reason for Rufus’ travels with Lucy and Wyatt, other than his ability to pilot the time machine. Hopefully Rufus and Connor Mason’s ulterior motives can offer more complexity to the character, so he doesn’t wind up being the butt of jokes.

For now, Timeless can stay on my B-List, because the seeds of future storylines planted during the pilot were just intriguing enough. I want to know more about Lucy’s notebook, and what’s going on between Rufus and Connor. Also, I must give credit to the fact that there were immediate consequences for the revisions they made to history. Even though it seems like they won’t be a problem for too long – the episode ends with Lucy being called back for another, possibly history-altering, adventure – at least they didn’t slack on that fundamental rule of time travel.

 

Frequency (CW) 8.5/10 – I’ll be checking in on a weekly basis.

A detective discovers she can speak with her deceased father via a ham radio, and the two of them work together across time to solve a decades-old murder case.

This was the biggest surprise of the week. In fact, it might be the biggest surprise of the new TV season thus far. Having no knowledge of the film that inspired it, I was entirely unsure of what I was getting into with Frequency. Though the trailer had done its job in enticing me to check out the show, I never expected to like it as much as I did. Some combination of the actors involved, the knowledge that time travel stories are high risk, and the idea that a ham radio was somehow the link between people living decades apart, didn’t inspire much faith for the project. Obviously, I need to stop judging books by their cover, or, more appropriately, TV shows by their 2-minute trailers.

Honestly, by the end of this pilot only one of my previous judgments remained an issue: having to accept that a ham radio struck by lightning could create a supernatural channel – a frequency, if you will – for conversing with the dead. But, hey, I’ve blindly accepted shakier premises – a virgin gets pregnant with artificial insemination, a bunch of teenage offenders are struck by lightning and develop superpowers. So, once you move past that, the episode has a number of things to offer. The first of which, was the time afforded to developing the characters’ own acceptance of the unbelievable thing happening to them. Unlike Timeless’ characters, ample space was provided for the growth of Raimy (Peyton List) and Frank (Riley Smith) as individuals, and to their process of finally accepting they were communicating with one another across the barriers of time.

Part of what helped convince Frank, was his and Raimy’s amusing baseball banter. I love how this dialogue served a dual purpose in both persuading Frank, and building a relationship between father and daughter. It’s interesting to see how much chemistry these two actors already have, despite not having a single scene where they’re actually together. List & Smith are impressing on all fronts; they’re each infusing a much-needed depth to some fairly stock characters. Perhaps some of that can be attributed to the change in dynamic from the 2000 film Frequency, which featured a father and son instead. Considering the superfluous amount of father-son relationships already explored on TV, I’m relieved the show is trying something different. Several details, both big – the change from son to daughter – and relatively small – using an Oasis song during Frank’s 90’s timeline – encourage confidence about the future of this show.

Most importantly, however, Frequency offers significant consequences for messing with history. Though hundreds of stories about time travel have taught us to beware the Butterfly Effect, the vast majority of shows and films rarely dish out the proper ramifications. Yes, Raimy no longer being engaged to Daniel was predictable. However, as I was patting myself on the back for correctly guessing this, the show swiftly redirected my hand to my face, when it revealed Raimy’s mother had died and the Nightingale Killer was still an on-going case. These unforeseen repercussions bode very well for the emotional impact, and overall wow-factor, Frequency could continue to hit throughout the rest of the season.

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