Anyone who knows me knows that I love time travel stories. A couple of years ago I even attempted to write a pilot about a man who could travel through time. So when I heard about the new NBC drama Journeyman, a show about a man who has the ability to go back in time, I was there. This is one of the few shows this fall that I can say that I am actually looking forward to. This also means that I will either really love the show or be its harshest critic.
The problem I see with many time travel TV shows and movies is that the audience tends to over-think everything from physics to philosophy, and cause and effect to paradox. Sometimes the audience just has to suspend disbelief and enjoy the story. That being said, the creators of the show have to establish certain rules of time travel then follow those rules. Look at Time Cop (the movie or the TV show). The audience came in accepting the idea of time travel but couldn't get beyond the fact that a time vehicle was launched like a pinball down a long track, but the charters arrived in the other time period without the vehicle. Where did it go? Time travel stories also work best when they don't deal with real historical events. The audience will then have an idea of how things will end (you knew Russell Johnson was not going to save Lincoln in that Twilight Zone episode). As you can see I am already over-thinking the show and I haven’t even watched it yet.
I watched the pilot. On the positive side, these are real human stories playing out. Kevin McKidd plays San Francisco newspaper reporter Dan Vasser. Dan begins having blackouts and then winds up sometime in his past. Time periods are subtly identified through popular culture references like music, clothing, billboards and broadcasts of The Today Show. The show reminds me a little bit of Quantum Leap but instead of the hero staying in one time until the job is done, Dan follows an individual, who he is apparently assigned to help, through different time periods.
Unlike Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), Dan gets to come home. Even though Dan is in different time periods, he is always in his hometown of San Francisco where he will cross paths with friends, family, and even himself. He also meets up with his late fiancé Livia Beale (Moon Bloodgood). Livia was believed to have died in a plane crash. Talk about creating a major paradox. When he returns to the present it can be hours or even days from the point in time from which he departed. Dan was even plucked out of his own time while driving his car. Those around him question his sobriety when he is unable to account for his whereabouts or worse when he does account for his whereabouts. That brings me to the negative side.
There are a lot of unanswered questions here. The audience wants to know how and why Dan time travels. Apparently Dan is being sent back in time to help people, but who is sending him? Livia also appears to be a time traveler and escaped the plane before it crashed. I think that the audience will want to know the time travel logistics early on so they can follow the story. Otherwise they will question things when they should be following the plot. I believe the intent here is to have a show that will appeal to a large audience and not just science fiction fans. In today’s world of instant gratification, the audience won't keep tuning in unless all is revealed. I will at least tune in next week, because I never judge a show by its pilot.
I saw the next episode and liked it a lot. Dan and his wife Katie (Gretchen Egolf) are on a plane flying to a Seattle bed and breakfast with the intention to make a baby. When Dan is in the lavatory he gets transported to another plane in 1970s. The 1970s flight was captured beautifully with a smoking section, sexy stewardess, and KC and the Sunshine Band playing in the background. Dan delivers a baby girl on the flight. Dan follows the lives of the mother and daughter through time and the story takes twists and turns keeping it from getting predictable. Not too many questions are answered except that Livia is involved with Dan's time traveling. Ultimately it is the human drama that drives this episode. The teaser for next week’s episode involves the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. I am very curious to see how they deal with an actual historical event.
The historical event in the third episode took a back seat to the human drama playing in Dan's present. Although Dan made good faith attempts to anonymously warn different agencies in 1989 that an earthquake was imminent, he was dismissed as a nut. Dan also tried in vain to save his boss's sister who died in the quake. His mission was to save an attorney with a gambling problem. Back in his own time, Katie was helping Dan out by inventing alibis for Dan's absence and doing his reporting job for him. At the end of the episode Katie discovers that Dan has been seeing Livia in the past.
The show has an appeal beyond the science fiction crowd. The only thing about the show that is predictable is that it is unpredictable. Other new shows should take a lesson from Journeyman. Start with a good story and build on that.
To quote newspaper reporter Dan Vasser to his boss, "It's the age of the blog, Hugh. You get the story first and get it right second."