Timeless: The Best Time Travel Show You Didn’t Watch

If you aren't familiar with Timeless and its jaunts through lesser-known patches of history, you're missing out.

timeless Malcolm BarrettRemove term: Matt Lanter Matt LanterRemove term: Abigail Spencer Abigail Spencer

Unfortunately, sometimes a television show can fall between the cracks, and we miss something that could otherwise be perfectly suited for our viewing pleasures. There have been times in history where people have discovered a show after its demise, lamenting the loss of a show that spoke to them (Firefly is the classic example). Most recently, a show that many seemed to miss was Timeless, an American Science-Fiction Drama that was released in 2016 on NBC and ran for one season, totalling 16 episodes. It was then unceremoniously cancelled, only to then be renewed due to massive fan backlash. The show would run for a second season consisting of ten episodes, and got cancelled again.

Again, this instantly created a massive backlash, with a social media movement grouping together on Twitter, using hashtags such as #ClockblockersUnite (yes, that’s what the fans call themselves), or #SaveTimeless, which ended up regularly hitting the Top 10 trends worldwide. There was also a Twitter handle created to collate any and all information related to the movement, that is actually still running now with a huge following, and several months after the cancellation, the show was still trending in the Top 10 alongside several major network shows.

This culminated in a huge group of fans raising over $21,000 on a Go Fund Me to help organise a plane with a banner promoting the show to fly during Comic-Con 2018, in a massive attempt to raise interest in the show. Many people featuring at the gathering would take pictures and tweet pictures of the banner, whilst one of the most heartwarming moments was that during these get togethers, one of the main cast members, Malcolm Barrett, traveled to join the group and took several pictures with them, whilst other cast members and creators would tweet support.

After the massive fan backlash, which I freely admit I was a part of, NBC announced a two episode special to air over Christmas 2018, specifically to tie up the show for fans. Timeless features on Netflix and even now, two years on, it gains new fans, with cast and crew regularly interacting with fans still about the show. The show is the collective brainchild of showrunners Shawn Ryan (creator of The Shield and S.W.A.T.) and Eric Kripke (creator of Supernatural and The Boys), both of whom have gained huge audiences for their tremendous ensemble casts and unflinching portrayals of the difficulties their characters go through.

Ryan’s experience with The Shield included a history of showing conflicted characters with multiple dimensions, which would definitely help develop Garcia Flynn from a generic terrorist villain into one of the most beloved characters, whilst Kripke’s long term planning with Supernatural allowed subtle inclusions of foreshadowing and loss throughout the episodes. Timeless would utilise these skills to craft characters faced with uncomfortable decisions, such as Wyatt continuously having to choose between succeeding at his mission, or finding a new way to save his dead wife.

These inclusions would gain more significance by the second season, as the team deal with the repercussions of their actions. Both of those shows are two of my undoubted favourites over the last fifteen years, which built a lot of anticipation for Timeless, and I will admit that it has grown to become one of my personal favourite shows.

 

The Main Cast and Story

Goran Višnjić portrays Garcia Flynn, a former NSA asset turned terrorist who breaks into a secret scientific facility to steal an experimental time machine from Mason Industries and its creator, Paterson Joseph’s Connor Mason. With the help of Homeland Security, represented by Sakina Jaffrey’s Agent Christopher, and Mason Industries, represented by Mason himself and computer programmer Jiya, played by Claudia Doumit, they assemble a team to help track down Flynn using a prototype time machine nicknamed the ‘Lifeboat’.

The team consists of African-American programmer and pilot Rufus, played by Malcolm Barrett, Master Sergeant and Delta Force operative Wyatt, played by Matt Lanter, and the team leader, history professor Lucy Preston, played by Abigail Spencer. With the team assembled, they follow Flynn back through history to 1937 at the site of the Hindenburg disaster, and so begins the ‘Lifeboat’ team’s battle to not only stop Flynn, but to save history as we know it.

 

Why Am I Recommending It?

Timeless - Season 2
Timeless – Season 2 (Photo by: Patrick Wymore/NBC)

Quickly setting the scene with some excellent scene setting before transitioning into a fun action scene, Timeless’s pilot episode gracefully moves through introducing the three main characters, utilising some charming dialogue between the three to endear them to the audience. But just before you begin to suspect of the show being light, there’s a brief conversation between two African-Americans discussing how there’s nowhere in history safe for them

In that moment, Timeless is setting the scene by admitting that this will not be a nostalgic look back at better times, but instead an opportunity to examine realistic issues through the microscope of history. During the show, there are unsheltered looks at issues of race, sexuality, gender, religion, and even class, which is given extra resonance through the experiences of our main characters, who by then the audience has grown to love.

Rather than focusing on possibly cliched heroes and events from history, the show prides itself on setting their focus on the lesser-known real life individuals affected by history, with tremendous historical accuracy. Some of the real-life figures who gain focus in the first season include John Wilkes Booth, mathematician Katherine Johnson (who Taraji P. Henson portrayed the same year in Hidden Figures), Bonnie & Clyde, and Al Capone, although there are also some interesting twists on unheralded figures at these events

For instance, instead of the usual focus on Elliot Ness, the episode would introduce Al Capone’s little-known brother, Prohibition agent Richard Hart. This would allow lesser known heroes such as U.S. Marshall Bass Reeves, who inspired The Lone Ranger, William B. Travis of The Alamo, President Lincoln’s son Robert Todd, and Shawnee tribe Chieftain Nonhelema to come to the forefront during the show.

Rather than being detached from history, all three members become emotionally and physically involved in America’s history, usually due to the colour of Rufus’ skin or Lucy’s gender, subtly enforcing some of the ongoing issues still relevant in today’s world. This would ironically help make the show feel almost more relevant today due to the unflinching look at the sins and horrors of the past, eliminating any possibility of portraying the past with unrealistic positivity.

However, even though Timeless offers focus on evocative moments and characters from America’s history, it’s the growth of the core characters that hooks me into the show. From the very first episode where one of the characters verbally slaps down a small-minded racist with a speech which is simultaneously inspirational and charmingly funny, you find yourself inevitably rooting for the cast throughout. Whether it’s Wyatt’s experiences as a soldier and his disturbing past driving him, Lucy drifting apart from her family due to the unfortunate secrets she has to keep, or Rufus’ lack of confidence in both himself and his growing relationships, the audience grows to empathise with these unlikely heroes.

As the show continues, the characters grow with their experience and battle through their horrendous trials together, Lucy becoming a more confident leader of the team, Wyatt accepting his flaws and moving past his losses, and the beloved Rufus standing up for himself to protect his friends and loved ones. Other members of the case would develop similarly with the same level of attention and care, often revealing information that would lead to revaluation of previous episodes.

For instance, I’ve rewatched the show at least twice now, and there are character beats in the first episode that would grow in relevance, such as Wyatt’s hero complex, Mason’s paternal relationship with Rufus, and even little off-hand quotes that in the future would be revealed to be manipulative attempts from certain characters to save another’s life.

The fact Timeless was unceremoniously cancelled, and the fans revolted to such a massive level to force NBC’s hand in bringing back the show for a second season just three days later (similar to Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s sixth season being picked up by NBC just one day after Fox cancelled the show), would inspire showrunners Kripke and Ryan to take this opportunity and use this second opportunity to their advantage.

Accepting that season two might be their last chance, they decided to go for broke and use the stories they’d always wanted to tell and the historical characters they’d always wanted to feature. This could well explain the strong female-driven arcs of the show, with Lucy’s relationship with her mother Carol becoming more predominant, and the inclusion of a female villain working on behalf of Rittenhouse. The show would also feature more of the women who impacted history, whether by featuring Hedy Lamarr in 1940s-era Hollywood, or making the decision to look at the Salem Witch Trials through the eyes of the women who suffered.

This culminated in one of Timeless’s strongest episodes, meeting Agent Christopher as a young officer as she deals with not only the attempted assassination of President Reagan, but her own family relations and sexuality. The main focus of the season finale was the relationship between Lucy and Wyatt, Wyatt having to come to terms with his past, the machinations of the main female villain (I’m not naming her as it otherwise spoils several episodes), and helps develop supporting character Jiya in a tremendous manner. Season two would be full of chances taken by the creators that the previous season they seemed more reluctant to chance. The show would end on a massive cliffhanger after the creators and fans were seemingly led to believe they would have a third season, with NBC waiting until over a month after the second season to cancel the show, to the fury of many fans.

Over the next month, fans would organise events and massive social media campaigns, to the point that #SaveTimeless became the number one trend worldwide on Twitter for several days, leading to Timeless being revived for a two-part finale. Whilst there were undoubtedly elements that deserved a proper season of dedication, this unlikely opportunity allowed the creators to complete their story as much as possible, whilst leaving a hint of a possible future story if the opportunity ever arose again. But for the briefest of time, Clockblockers around the world were united by one thing in common, a love for a show that told beloved stories about adventure, relationships, and people who mattered, even if for just a minute.

The show itself would run for 28 episodes in total, averaging 43 minutes an episode, totalling 1,204 minutes, or just slightly over twenty hours. If you have a free weekend, love history, action, romance, drama, and tremendously written characters, you owe yourself the opportunity to try this unique show.

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