Review: Timeless 1×1 (US: NBC; UK: E4)

Anything but

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, NBC
In the UK: Acquired by E4

Time and tide wait for no man, but that’s not going to stop US TV networks trying this season. There’s at least three time travel shows on the radar, with Making History hitting Fox in 2017, Frequency on The CW later this week and last night we got Timeless on NBC. 

Making a TV show about time travel shouldn’t be too hard – and indeed all those shows are as different from each other as they are from Doctor Who – but Timeless arrives on our screens already bearing a lawsuit from the creators of El ministerio del tiempo (The Ministry of Time) for being just a tad too similar in concept. To be honest, though, I reckon the show’s a Ron Silver or a Jean Claude Van Damme away from an equally valid suit from the creators of Time Cop.

Lots of black British actors are saying the only route to a good career these days is to head to the US. Certainly, everyone’s favourite ‘should have been Doctor Who‘ Paterson Joseph had to head over to the States to be able to have his own time machine. Although being the US where everything is bigger, better and available in more colours, he got two.

Trouble is the mega-wealthy Joseph didn’t realise that time travel creates paradoxes, and although he kept his shiny time machines to himself, everyone’s favourite handsome East European villain, Goran Višnjić (Extant, Practical Magic) has a book from the future telling him all about where the time machines are now, and he goes and steals one.

Joseph calls in the government for help, and the government calls in Delta operative Matt Lanter (Star Crossed, 90210) and professor of so much history Abigail Breslin (Rectify) to help them. Before you know it, Lanter, Breslin and one of Joseph’s techies (Better Off Ted‘s Malcolm Barrett) are heading back into the past in the remaining time machine to prevent Višnjić from stopping America before it gets started. First stop, 1937 to ensure Višnjić can’t… prevent the Hindenburg disaster? Hang on, that doesn’t seem right.

Here’s a trailer.

From Eric Kripke (“Revolution,” “Supernatural”), Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”) and the producers of “The Blacklist” comes this thrilling action-adventure series in which a mysterious criminal steals a secret state-of-the-art time machine, intent on destroying America as we know it by changing the past. Our only hope is an unexpected team: a scientist, a soldier and a history professor who use the machine’s prototype to travel back in time to critical events. While they must make every effort not to affect the past themselves, they must also stay one step ahead of this dangerous fugitive. Can this handpicked team uncover the mystery behind it all and end his destruction before it’s too late?

The cast includes Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, Malcolm Barrett, Goran Visnjic, Paterson Joseph, Sakina Jaffrey and Claudia Doumit.

Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan serve as writers and executive producers. John Davis, John Fox, Marney Hochman and Director Neil Marshall also executive produce. “Timeless” is produced by Davis Entertainment, Kripke Enterprises and MiddKid Productions in association with Sony Pictures Television.

Is it any good?
It’s brainless fun, the kind of show you’d have loved when you were 12 years old, but oddly, it’s not as much fun as it should be.

For starters, there are all kinds of rules about not changing the past, not going to a time where you already exist in case you meet yourself and bits fall off you, and so on. That’s a downer.

Then there’s the acknowledgement that Barrett is basically the Kenny from South Park of the piece. They’re going to go back in time to the 1960s and earlier, and he’s black. What could go wrong? Even Barrett is upset at the prospect and spends most of the first episode attracting glares, having to lurk outside shops, sitting in the back of buses and bracing himself for police abuse, rather than play with the others. That’s definitely not fun.

Lantner is very pretty but a Delta he is not and he’s too busy moping about his dead wife to spend time developing a character. That just leaves Spencer to be the heroine of the piece. Now Spencer’s always good, reliable and solid (cf SuitsMad Men), and her role has the potential to be the true source of fun here. After all, we have a history professor getting to go back in time and experience everything first hand. True, experience everything first hand then dick it all up, but she should be having a ball. She should be a gushing nerd of excitement all the time.

Instead, although she gets a moment or two, when she’s not busy moping about her dying mum or her sister, she’s mainly there to be mum. She’s there to tell the naughty boys who haven’t done their homework what the history is in remarkably dull detail – she literally knows the time of every single thing that leads up to the Hindenburg disaster – and then to tell them off as they start dicking it up.

Also, the Hindenburg disaster. Really? Is that a budget thing or did Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke really think that the most exciting destination for a time travel show’s first episode was an exploding Nazi balloon? They had the whole of history for Višnjić to sabotage and they have him go to 1937?

So not as much fun from the characters as there should be and not as much fun from the locales as there should be. The ongoing plot – why Višnjić is doing all this and where he got the book from – is a bit dull, too, although there is at least some nuance to it. More or less the only thing about the show that is fun is Joseph, who seems to be having a whale of a time being an eccentrically English Steve Jobs – although not as eccentrically English as guest star Matt Frewer.

Not the worst time travel show there’s ever been and the fact there are at least repercussions to actions in the past that enable our history to be changed does at least make it slightly different from others. However, unless there’s a distinct perking up in subsequent episodes, Timeless is going to be anything but.


  • 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.