Thursday, May 04, 2017

Not “Time” Enough

I’m very often late to the party when it comes to new TV shows, and that was certainly the case with the recent ABC midseason replacement series Time After Time, a Kevin Williamson-developed historical thriller based on both Karl Alexander’s novel of that same name and the 1979 Nicholas Meyer-scripted film made from Alexander’s fantastical cat-and-mouse adventure. It was just this week, in fact, that I finally caught up with the show, which imagines H.G. Wells—a freshly divorced teacher and journalist, not yet having published any of the science-fiction novels for which he would become famous—traveling in a time machine of his own invention from the London of 1893 to New York City in 2017, in pursuit of Jack the Ripper, who’s escaped justice using the same mechanism. Sadly, it’s now been more than a month since Time After Time was cancelled!

Expectations were that Season 1 of the show would comprise 12 episodes; eight of them had been scheduled by the time ABC pulled the plug, but only five were actually broadcast. The ratings for Time After Time were fairly dismal, and critics seemed unimpressed, with Variety’s Sonia Saraiya saying the program “feels neither adequately steeped in time travel or [sic] the lore of H.G. Wells to really deliver what its premise suggests.” My own view, however, after sitting through the opening five episodes, is that Time After Time boasted multiple charms—not the least being its young romantic leads, English actor Freddie Stroma (UnREAL) playing Wells, and the downright lovely Genesis Rodriguez as Texas-reared Jane Walker, who has moved to Gotham in search of a larger life, only to become an assistant curator at the (fictional) New York Metropolitan Museum. She meets Wells when he suddenly steps from his newly restored time machine on display at the museum. Josh Bowman (Revenge) portrays John Stevenson, a London surgeon and Wells’ friend, who’s revealed as the notorious Ripper.

(Left) Freddie Stroma and Genesis Rodriguez in
Time After Time

Like the Malcolm McDowell/Mary Steenburgen film of 38 years ago, Williamson’s series makes much of Victorian gentleman Wells’ bewilderment around today’s technology and his initial discomfort in the company of a “modern woman.” He also has some fun with the Ripper, who is reimagined here as a sexy beast, intending to thrive in an age when the possibilities for violence seem so much greater than they did back in the 1890s. (Stevenson’s only disappointment, it seems, is that history has no idea it was he who perpetrated the Whitechapel slayings.) The series throws in additional secondary characters, among them a wealthy woman claiming to be Wells’ descendent and a willowy neural pathologist, Brooke Monroe (played by Jennifer Ferrin), who seduces, then captures Stevenson, intending to employ him in some sort of revenge scheme. Sadly, we never learn how Monroe knew he was the time-displaced Ripper. Like various other plot threads, this one was left dangling at the close of the fifth episode, probably never to be resolved. (We also never learn why the Ripper chose to lie low between 1888—the year his atrocities first hit the press—and 1893.) What we know of the direction this series might have taken comes from interviews with Williamson, such as one from TV Line, in which he called Time After Time “‘not really a time-travel show; we’re more the story of a young H.G. Wells and his adventures in modern-day New York, and how they inspire him to go back and write The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr. Moreau’—by planting Easter eggs for those novels, as well as War of the Worlds, throughout the first, 12-episode season.”

For at least the time being, you can still watch what exists of Time After Time by going to the ABC-TV Web site. There’s also a Facebook page devoted to the show, which includes clips from different episodes. You can click here to take in the series’ official trailer, and as a bonus, click here to see the trailer from the 1979 film adaptation of Alexander’s book. I hope it’s possible someday to catch up with the final three, un-broadcast episodes of Time After Time, whether on YouTube or with a DVD release. The show held promise, unlike so many U.S. network programs nowadays.

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