Review: Frequency 1×1 (US: The CW; UK: Netflix)

Sophie's time travel choice

In the US: Wednesdays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Acquired by Netflix. New episodes on Thursdays

Time travel takes many forms in TV and movies. Often, as we’ve seen with the likes of Doctor Who and more recently Timeless, it’s about physically going into the past, maybe to kill Hitler, maybe because it sounds like a laugh. This form of time travel has its pros (eg getting to see how things really were first-hand) as well as its cons (eg exposure to virulent plague, crime, war, etc). 

Then there are the stories that are all about the personal, with people going back in time within their own lifetimes, usually to sort out their own issues or those of their friends, family or perhaps even complete strangers (eg Quantum LeapBeing Erica, Hindsight). These have pros (eg excellent knowledge of the historical events, chance to improve one’s own life) and cons (eg chance to ruin your own future happy marriage, alienate friends, never have your kids).

Perhaps the most genteel, distant yet also somehow the most intimate are the shows that don’t involve travel at all, but are about temporal communication – being able to send messages back into the past to change the future. The surprisingly lovely yet plothole-tastic 2006 movie The Lake House is one such example, with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves able to send each other letters through time and fall in love – and maybe prevent a terrible tragedy from happening.

Similarly, 2000’s Frequency, which starred Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel, saw son and dead father able to communicate to each other across the space of 20 years through a ham radio. Unfortunately, their communication causes history to change and they somehow then have to prevent the new tragedy.

The CW’s new adaptation of Frequency changes quite a bit of the movie yet stays essentially true to it. The CW favourite Peyton List (The Tomorrow People, Big Shots, The Flash) gender-swaps Caviezel’s role to become Raimy Sullivan, a 28-year-old cop who is herself the daughter of cop and The CW favourite Riley Smith (Drive, Nashville, The Messengers), who was killed not long after her eighth birthday.

Angry all her life at the man subsequently revealed to be dirty and who abandoned her and her mother, she’s somewhat surprised when her boyfriend (Daniel Bonjour) digs her father’s ham radio out of the garage and although it doesn’t work for him, it works for her, putting her in touch with her dead father just a couple of days before his death. Is she going mad or is it all true? And can she save her actually innocent father without causing even worst things to happen to her own history as a result?

Here’s a trailer that gives away everything that happens in the first episode, so we can talk spoilery stuff after the jump.

Detective Raimy Sullivan (Peyton List) has always wanted to prove that she is nothing like her father. In 1996, when Raimy was eight years old, NYPD Officer Frank Sullivan (Riley Smith) left Raimy and her mother, Julie (Devin Kelley), behind when he went deep undercover, got corrupted, and got himself killed. Or so the story has always gone.

Few people knew about the secret undercover sting operation Frank was really charged with, led by Stan Moreno (Anthony Ruivivar), who has now risen to Deputy Chief of Police. Frank’s former partner, Lieutenant Satch Reyna (Mekhi Phifer), is now Raimy’s mentor and friend, and he has urged her to let go of the hurt and anger she still feels about Frank’s disappearance and death, but the old pain still lingers. Raimy can barely bring herself to discuss Frank, even with her devoted boyfriend, Daniel (Daniel Bonjour), or her childhood friend, Gordo (Lenny Jacobson).

Now, twenty years later, Raimy is stunned when a voice suddenly crackles through her father’s old, long-broken ham radio – it’s Frank, somehow transmitting over the airwaves and through the decades from 1996. They’re both shocked and confused, but Raimy shakes Frank to the core when she warns him that the secret sting he is undertaking will lead to his death. Armed with that knowledge, Frank survives the attempt on his life. But changing history has dramatically affected Raimy’s life in the present – and there have been tragic consequences. Separated by twenty years, father and daughter have reunited on a frequency only they can hear, but can they rewrite the story of their lives without risking everyone they love?

FREQUENCY is from Warner Bros. Television in association with Lin Pictures, with executive producers Jeremy Carver (“Supernatural”), Toby Emmerich (“The Notebook” feature film), John Rickard (“Horrible Bosses”), Dan Lin (“The LEGO™ Movie,” “Sherlock Holmes”) and Jennifer Gwartz (“Veronica Mars”).

Is it any good?
Despite having watched that trailer before watching the first episode, I still actually really enjoyed it. 

Although there’s the temporal communication and the police sides to the show, it’s essentially a show about relationships: there’s a mother/daughter story, a father/daughter story and boyfriend-girlfriend story. The gender swap works well and opens up the show to new kinds of plots than we’re used in such situations (cf the original Frequency). The characters are reasonably well drawn, although mum gets slightly short shrift in the episode. There’s also relatively little wallowing and stringing out of the plot for histrionics, and since List isn’t there in the past and her dad isn’t sat in front of his radio all day, she has to rely on him and whatever information she can convey to him to prevent the worst from happening, which creates an interesting tension.

There’s also a sort of Sophie’s Choice to the drama – would you like to have your dead father back if it cost you your mother and boyfriend? It’a Sophie’s Choice with a countdown, too – by the end of the first episode, with time advancing at the same rates in 1996 and 2016, List only has a few days to influence the past to prevent her now dead mother being murdered, but given it means sending her dad up against a serial killer, there’s the possibility she could end up killing him again in the process or even losing everyone.

All of which adds up to some intriguing options for the show and the possibility of List doing a Father Ted‘s Ford Cortina to her own timeline each week:

It’s all solidly done with a decent, even if not exceptional cast, and is an excellent example to Timeless of how time travel shows should be done: make viewers care about the characters, make the time travel have real consequences and make the action exciting. Definitely one to stick with.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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