NBC’s “Timeless” falls at the corner of two big themes for this season: must-watch new drama on NBC (“This Is Us”) and time-travel shows on seemingly every network. There’s time-bending radio story “Frequency” (and the time-hopping “Arrow”/”Flash”/etc.-verse, of course) on The CW, plus ABC drama “Time After Time” and FOX comedy “Making History” on the midseason slate.
The Monday (Oct. 3) premiere of “Timeless,” though, makes a strong case for the show’s place at the head of both groups — “Timeless” is as good as NBC’s other big new shows, and better than all we’ve yet seen across the genre.
Thanks to the strange black box of programming decisions, we may never know why there are so many time-travel shows coming out at the same time — but conventional wisdom suggests that audiences tend to wave them all off entirely when that happens.
“Timeless” particularly sounded all too broad, and frankly ridiculous, to even mention … until we actually watched the show about scientist Rufus (Malcolm Barrett), soldier Wyatt (Matt Lanter) and history professor Lucy (Abigail Spencer) secretly traveling to momentous occasions in American history to stop a fugitive, Flynn (Goran Visnjic), from destroying life as we know it.
Co-executive producers and showrunners Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke sat down with us this week to talk about the premiere, and filled in the blanks on all the stuff that we found to love about this new show.
1. Just enough rules to make sense, without killing the fun
As far as we know, time travel doesn’t actually exist.
The show wastes no time in establishing that this machine makes time travel possible, because the fun isn’t in the imaginary technology or even the rules, but the stories that they help create:
“We keep the rules simple,” Ryan explains. “We don’t want to go deep into a rabbit hole like ’12 Monkeys’ in terms of time travel. [It’s like] the way that ‘Back to the Future’ was easily understandable. The way that ‘Quantam Leap’ was easily understandable.”
The sole rule in “Timeless” is that you can’t go back to the same exact place twice: “There are no do-overs in our universe,” Ryan says, which helps tighten down the storyline and its foundations considerably.
“The universe can’t handle two of you in space at the same time. Once something changes, they now live in the universe where those things have changed.”
2. Watch & learn stuff
Because “Timeless” revisits moments of such historical importance — the Hindenburg disaster of 1937, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the battle for the Alamo — the adventures aren’t just large-scale refreshers on American and world history, but full of details and secrets about the times, places and people that created the world we live in today.
Ryan and Kripke kept historians in the writers’ room as they created this series, with an eye toward providing interesting twists on history, proving again and again that truth is stranger than fiction. We’re reminded of Kripke’s “Supernatural,” of course, which provides weekly mythical, religious, folklore and historical nuggets in a similarly low-key way.
3. Abigail Spencer
The 35-year-old actress is known to most as Dana Scott on “Suits” or the faithful younger sister — and breakout character — Amantha Holden on “Rectify.” Spencer also had a memorable role on “Mad Men” as Sally’s teacher Suzanne Farrell who lived down the lane — the one with a troubled brother and only a limited amount of time for Don’s nonsense.
She starred as the owner of the truth-telling eponymous “Angela’s Eyes” on Lifetime for one season, played medical director Dr. Erin Jameson on TNT’s “Hawthorne,” and made comedic appearances on “How I Met Your Mother,” “Burning Love,” “Childrens Hospital” and the film “Cowboys & Aliens.” (She also played Gena Brune in Season 2 of “True Detective,” arguably the most quintessentially “True Detective” female character to ever appear on the show “True Detective.”)
Here, she’s given some pretty heavy-handed dialogue, given the nature of the situation, that could tough to pull off for a lesser talent. But Spencer’s Lucy keeps what could come off as a spoof seem grounded and real — and it’s why she’s a key reason we’re so enthusiastic about the show.
“Timeless” premieres Monday, Oct. 3 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.