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How Making History chose a duffle bag as its time machine

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Making History is one of several series to premiere this season with a focus on time travel — which doesn’t include the ones that were already on the air — but the cast and producers of Fox’s upcoming high-concept comedy aren’t sweating the overlap. And besides, they’re the only ones able to bend the rules of the space-time continuum with a duffle bag.

“I don’t view it as we’re in competition with them at all,” creator Julius Sharpe (Family Guy) told reporters at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour on Wednesday. “They’re doing such a different thing. A, this is a comedy. Our show, B, is a lot more about how the time travel facilitates these relationships across time, and we’re then dealing with the relationships of Dan [Adam Pally] and Deborah [Leighton Meester]. It’s a romantic comedy about how two people who see the world differently can get together, as well as make friends across time and have buddy-comedy adventures across time. So we’re not dealing with serious implications constantly that I think they’re dealing with.” Added cast member Yassir Lester: “And one of the episodes we go back a year and kidnap the cast from Timeless and Time After Time.”

Premiering March 5 (yes, the same night as ABC’s Time After Time), the show features Pally as a facilities manager at a Massachusetts college who journeys back to colonial times, falls for Paul Revere’s daughter (Meester), and the pair must save America with the help of a history professor (Lester). And Pally thinks the show’s premise may be the perfect antidote for these trying times. “I think that probably with what’s going on in America right now, people are looking for a little bit of escapism,” he says. “And time travel, we were lucky enough to be making this show at a time politically where we were able to look back at the way America was formed as a lot of the rights that we hold so dear now kind of being taken away from us. So that was a really fun way to approach it comedically.”

Every time-travel show has its own sophisticated transport device, and Making History’s is no doubt the simplest. “I didn’t want to have to spend all my time at work dealing with, like, some big orb,” quipped Sharpe. “So it was like, ‘What would be the easiest thing production-wise?’ It just seemed like a duffle bag, and then I was thinking about multiple people being stuck in a duffle bag together. Seemed like that could be funny.”

Making History stuck with simplicity when it came to building its rules of time travel as well. “You can only time-travel in the place that you are,” says Pally. “So our show takes place in Lexington, Massachusetts, and right outside Boston, so it only makes sense that we would travel to colonial times the way that other shows would go to a bar to talk. But we have the luxury of traveling all across time. So we go to 1919 Chicago. We go to the ’90s. We go to 1940s Germany, and I think that these guys in colonial times, especially because Deb and Dan are in a relationship, it becomes just another room of the house that we built.” (The characters do have use airports to get to the physical destination, but as Pally joked: He can check the duffle bag.)

And the depiction of such founding fathers as John Hancock and Sam Adams will be, well, not the ones you read about in history class. “They’re fun, too, because they’re treated as both highly intelligent, learned, heroic and accomplished guys who also, in present day, are basically like animals,” says Broad City star John Gemberling, who plays John Hancock. “They don’t know how to go to the bathroom in the toilet. On the one hand, they’re revered guys, and on the other hand, they’re sort of, like, animals from a coarser past.” Cracked Sharpe: “I think of them as the wisest toddlers.”

The show represents the first regular TV role for Meester since Gossip Girl, and she was drawn back into the medium strictly for laughs. “I was like, ‘I definitely want to do comedy. I just want to live in a world that’s fun and have fun on set.'” she said. In researching her character, though, Meester discovered it was no punchline picnic for Deb. “I think it’s pretty telling that there wasn’t a lot about his daughters. It’s kind of sad,” she said. “She’s like, ‘I wanted to learn a new language, so I had to teach myself. I wasn’t allowed to go to school.’ So there wasn’t a lot of information, but of course, there’s information about colonial women, and I think people were really, really bored back then without television. So they just, like, read books.”

Sharpe said that although much of Dan’s travel into the past will often be jaunts into the future for Deb, she’s a valuable part of the team. “Particular skills she has that were taken for granted in her time now make her almost like a superhero in this time,” he says. “Like, a woman who can hunt, fish, cook for 30 people, make her own clothes, build a hut, and it’s like now everyone’s on their phone. It seems like people can’t do anything, and I think really interesting aspect of that character, that she is so capable in so many ways that were taken for granted in her time but are now totally lost to us.”

How will their journeys through various eras affect the course of events? One of the biggest laughs from the room arrived when a reported asked, “Just to make sure I understand, the butterfly effect is not a big deal on the show?,” and Lester deadpanned: “Right. We barely even watched the movie.”

Watch the new trailer for Making History above.