Review: Time After Time 1×1-1×2 (US: ABC)

HG Wells chases Jack The Ripper in 2017 New York. As you do

In the US: Sundays, 9/8c, ABC

Kevin Williamson’s arm slumped to his side, the remote control loose in his grasp. The room was silent now, silent as a single tear rolled down his cheek.

“When Alexander saw the depth of his empire he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer,” he repeated to himself. “So right. Hans was so right.”

Williamson was inconsolable. He owed everything to serial killers. Everything. His entire career had started with Scream but how he wished that he could escape them now, to develop sweet, lovely little shows.

But every time he’d strayed, every time he’d tried to develop a Dawson’s Creek or Hidden Palms or adapt another young adult book to make a Vampire Diaries or The Secret Circle, he’d been forced to return to the minds of these misogynistic sociopaths. Scream 2, I Know What You Did Last SummerScream 4 and then The Following had all drawn him back in.

Except now The Following had been cancelled. What was he to do? Three seasons of The Following. Three! He must have exhausted every serial killer permutation in the book. Worse – people were becoming jaded with serial killers. They had… over-kill!

Williamson would have chuckled at that, if there had been even the slightest trace of joy in his life. There was nothing left. He ruled… nothing.

If only there were some way to make serial killers better, to truly catch the public imagination once again, just as they had all those years ago.

If a light bulb could have appeared about Williamson’s head, it would have done. All those years reading books hadn’t been for nothing after all! What if he could bring the most popular serial killer ever into modern times to save him? What if he could bring Jack the Ripper himself into the present day?

And he knew just how. He reached over to his bookcase and took out Time After Time by Karl Alexander. He opened it. In the hollowed out centre of the book was the DVD of the movie, Time After Time, written and directed by Nicholas Meyer.

He put the disc into the machine and pressed play on his remote control.

Yes, this will work. And he already knew how he could turn it into a TV series. Just with someone a bit hotter than Malcolm McDowell or David Warner…

Travel through centuries, decades and days with a young H.G. Wells in the time machine he created. Using creative elements from many of Wells’s classic stories, Time After Time creates a fantasy world surrounding the events that inspired these great literary works. We look at the world of today through the eyes of yesterday while fully charged with danger and centered in thrills, satire, humor – and most of all – an epic love story.

Is it any good?
Nah. It’s rubbish. Occasionally smart rubbish, but still rubbish.

The show’s biggest problem is that it tries to take Meyer’s film and then bolt on the exact same bog standard series elements that network TV loves so much these days. The centre of the show is still HG Wells (UnReal‘s Freddie Stroma), who built a time machine so he could… write a novel about a time machine. Except his best mate (Revenge‘s Josh Bowman) not only turns out to be Jack The Ripper, he nicks the Time Machine and travels into the future – this time, New York 2017. Wells follows him and there he encounters the assistant curator of the New York HG Wells museum (Génesis Rodríguez). The rest of the pilot is then Wells’ efforts to catch Bowman and stop him before his kills Rodríguez, whom Wells becomes quite fond of quite quickly.

Bolted on to that is a bit of timey-wimey silliness, with said unlikely museum having been founded by Murder in the First‘s Nicole Ari Parker, who turns out not only to be related to Wells and rather rich but to have already met him in his future/her past. She basically finances the efforts to track down Bowman and keep Wells safe – she’s Patterson Joseph in Timeless, basically. Meanwhile, the pacifist Wells soon learns that punching and guns might well be necessary in life after all. Screw principles, hey?

There’s also the problem that Rodríguez is basically useless and spends most of the pilot being stupid, getting captured or recaptured by Bowman, or both. Her character is about as uninspiring as they come. “How did I become a museum curator? Well, I loved Art History so much that I had to study it at college but never thought about what career I would have so I sort of fell into it.” The rest of the time, she’s talking about her ex-boyfriend. Yawn.

Dialogue is, indeed, a problem. While there’s some effort to give both Bowman and Stroma English dialogue, it’s a combination of archaic formal speeach and modern day English via Mary Poppins. Yet there’s no consistency and Stroma and Bowman are both bombarded with modern-day vocabulary yet somehow manage to understand all of it. By the end of the first episode, Stroma is even offering Rodríguez “time to process” her experiences. Where did he learn that?

It suggests a certain lack of appreciation for history or culture. Certainly, the surprise of the Brits that guns are freely available to buy in shops and be carried openly is somewhat odd, given that you didn’t even need a licence to buy a gun in England in 1893, thus making it even freer with guns than modern day New York.

But the show does have two assets at least. Both Stroma and Bowman are great casting. Stroma’s marvellous as the wide-eyed Wells, whom the show doesn’t forget was a free love-advocating socialist who hoped for a utopia on Earth. He’s actually genuinely moving when he watches TV news shows, sees all the violence of the world and begins to cry. The show glosses over the fact that the younger Wells we get was a bit more pro-eugenics, a bit less anti-racist than he ended up in his later years, but it manages to get away with it largely thanks to Stroma.

Similarly, the former professional rugby player Bowman is delightfully animalistic and bad boyish. He may not be Jack the Ripper, but he is a decent enough replacement for James Purefoy. What  stems from either Stroma’s delight at some marvellous piece of technology or change in morality for the better or Bowman’s discovery of some carnal pleasure he’s newly allowed to enjoy – or a commentary from either of them (“Rent here is $1,800 a week. Your entire economy is ridiculous.”)

Given that the show has now exhausted the movie for all its content, Time After Time now has a blank page to work with. Maybe it’ll be “hunt the Ripper” every week or maybe it’ll start to explore Wells’ other novels. It’s very clear it knows these do exist and Wells is with us before he’s even written The Time Machine, so maybe he’ll find real life inspiration for The Island of Doctor Moreau, War of the Worlds, and The First Men In The Moon in the next few episodes. On top of that, Parker’s husband is called Griffin, so we might not be a million miles away from The Invisible Man, too. There’s also an odd man following Wells and Bowman about who seems to know who they are, which might take the show in another direction altogether.

Everything’s to play for with episode three then. More of the tedious same or something a bit different. Has Williamson run out of ideas or does he still have some gumption? We’ll soon see.


  • 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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