It goes without saying that we are in the age of time travel throughout genre television. From “Legends of Tomorrow” to “Frequency” to “12 Monkeys,” the classic science fiction component has been used in new and exciting ways on the small screen. One of the standout shows this fall is NBC’s “Timeless” and if it’s one show that combines the urgency and wonder of “Quantum Leap” with the fun action of “Legends of Tomorrow,” this would be it.
With two episodes remaining before the midseason finale, the series has presented a bunch of mysterious moving parts while successfully developing a core team of characters for the audience to root for. And each week, a new era in American history is visited not only to assist in pushing the story forward but also teach the viewers a thing or two about where we’ve been as a country.
It’s a massive undertaking for sure, and for executive producers Eric Kripke (“Supernatural,” “Revolution”) and Shawn Ryan (“The Shield,” “Terriers”), the show has been a proving ground for their collected skills and experience in television production.
Screener got a chance to speak with the men ahead of the final two episodes before winter break. What we got was some insight into their behind-the-scenes process, an idea of where Lucy (Abigail Spencer), Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) and Wyatt (Matt Lanter) are going and the exciting promise of a Rittenhouse origin story.
Screener: What are the challenges with picking the specific points in American history for the heroes to travel to?
Shawn Ryan: I would say that you’d want to find a time period that’s interesting. You want to be able to find aspects and details that aren’t too familiar to people. And yet, I think we find that oftentimes, our most successful time periods are ones where people have some idea about them — but maybe don’t know as much as they can or should. Certainly I don’t know as much about these time periods, but we do our research, and talk with our historian and everything.
So we want something that’s going to be an interesting framing device for the episode. But even more important than that, you want something that’s going to tell an interesting story for at least one — and preferably all three — of your main characters. You know, [Nov. 28’s “Space Race”] was a good example of us being able to tell a strong Rufus science story in that world, and also tell a really interesting, you know, “Lucy as a woman in a male-dominated society” story in the episode. So, it’s not enough for the time period to be interesting: We also need to find a way to have it resonate thematically with one or more of our main characters.
Eric Kripke: I would add that one of the big challenges of this show every week is logistical. Creating an entirely new world every week makes this show, by far, the hardest show I’ve ever had to produce. Trying to have a discussion that you normally only have once in a show, you know… What is the style of wardrobe? What is the style of the set deck? What is the tone of the show? We have to tear everything down, and restart those conversations every single week — so the amount of blood, sweat and tears that come in the building with these completely new sets, and finding a completely new wardrobe, week in and week out is… I’m very proud of what we’re pulling off, but it’s very difficult.
Speaking of ‘Space Race,’ there was a moment after Rufus killed one of Garcia’s men that he confided in Lucy that he felt nothing. Is this a character detail we’ll be seeing more of in future episodes?
EK: We’re just actually working on that script right now that pays that off. What we like to deal with in the show is treat the genre concept in the most grounded and serious way possible. In a normal action show, heroes just shoot the bad guys and they don’t seem to have any reaction to it.
I think what we like about this show is our hero shoots a bad guy and he’s got a troubling reaction to it. He’s going to wrestle with that further, and he’s going to keep evolving. We really like deep-diving into the emotions and honest reactions of our heroes as they face these kinds of issues, because it really helps ground the genre into a human, character-driven place.
Speaking of grounded, there has been some question regarding Garcia Flynn’s true motives. He’s obviously not a hero, but we have doubts that he’s the real villain the team has made him out to be.
SR: I think you’re onto something in that. We want the audience to wonder exactly what you’re asking at this moment. As future episodes play out, I think the answers you are seeking will be clarified, and I appreciate that you like that aspect of it.
A lot of the credit goes to Goran [Visnjic] whose character does some bad sh*t — but he does it in likable ways onscreen. He’s a very charismatic individual, which is one of the reasons why we cast him. We didn’t want a stereotypical bad guy in the role. Certainly, he’s doing things that, in and of themselves in isolation, are damning and un-defendable. I would say, killing young Wayne Ellis in his backyard was a good example of that.
Having said that, I think there is a code that Garcia Flynn is living by. There is a greater good in his mind that he’s trying to achieve. Whether we the audience will agree with that greater good is something we’re going to string out for a little bit longer but we’ll have a lot of answers within this first season. We like playing Flynn on that sort of razor’s edge of, is he a villainous bad guy or is he more a misunderstood, complicated character?
Speaking of villainous characters, after the big reveal that Rittenhouse and Lucy are connected, will we be getting more insight into the mysterious group before season’s end?
EK: We’re certainly not going to give away when Lucy realizes who her father is, and when that explosion happens. I will say, what is coming in the Benedict Arnold episode that we’re really excited about is we really get to witness firsthand what the origin of Rittenhouse is. We get to tell its origin story.
I think one of the things that’s really fun about this show, that we really encourage our writers in the room to explore is, what can we do in a time travel show that no other show can do? The idea came up that the one thing we can do is actually go back in time to witness the beginning of Rittenhouse — to really explain who they are, how they came together and what they stand for. We really unveil to the audience who this shadowy organization is, but do it by telling the story of the birth of the organization.
So, I can say that the fall finale is certainly going to have that, and the audience is going to learn a hell of a lot more about who and what Rittenhouse is. In terms of what will happen with Lucy and her father drama, the audience will just have to wait and see.
There are so many points in time Wyatt, Lucy and Rufus have visited already. If both of you had a choice, where in American history would you want to visit?
SR: I might want to travel back to VE Day, you know, when World War II had just been won and the celebration that ensued in the country with the defeat of Naziism and the Japanese. I think it was a time of unparalleled optimism. It’d be fun to sort of bask in those good feelings for a few days.
EK: Right!? With the nation actually coming together.
Sounds like a nice change of pace.
EK: My go-to answer is this — I would go back to the ’70s, write ‘Star Wars,’ take all the credit for it.
“Timeless” airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.