For the cast and crew of Time After Time, ABC’s adventure drama following a young H.G. Wells (yes, the H.G. Wells) who’s chasing Jack the Ripper (yes, the Jack the Ripper), nothing is impossible.
Not even turning an area of Brooklyn into Paris in the middle of World War I — and then creating an explosion in the middle of it — is too much. “Just another Tuesday on this set,” remarks Genesis Rodriguez, who plays Jane, a present-day museum curator helping H.G. It’s late September 2016, and the cast is filming episode 5, which takes place in the French capital in 1918. Today, Rodriguez will soon have to scream at the top of her lungs as chaos breaks out in the middle of the street.
But let’s back up a bit. (It’s a time-travel show, after all.) The series begins the way the original 1979 film on which it’s based does. There’s H.G. Wells (Freddie Stroma) hosting a dinner party. There’s celebrated surgeon John Stevenson (Josh Bowman) arriving after having killed again as his alter ego, Jack the Ripper. There’s the time machine H.G. has built, which John immediately hijacks to avoid being arrested for his latest murder. H.G. chases after John and arrives far into the future, where he’s realized that the form of utopia he wanted hasn’t materialized at all.
The core conflict between the men has also translated to this adaptation of the story, in which they land in New York City in 2017 instead of 1979. “I’m the idealist, and he’s the realist,” Stroma explains. “They’re best friends, but at the same time they have completely different views.”
While H.G. is, as Stroma puts it, a “dweebish” and “wide-eyed” fish out of water dismayed by the future’s failure to reach utopia, John can’t get enough of the darkness. He’s a charming psychopath, a freak-turned-amateur in this future full of freaks. “John loves it,” Bowman says. “He gets here, and he’s just so eager to drink it in. He’s running around like a headless goof!”
That running around gets interrupted when H.G. finds him, of course — and when John begins to think about why he kills in the first place. “Season 1 will focus on if he wants to redefine himself in a new world,” Bowman says, adding that he read books like The Mask of Sanity by Hervey M. Cleckley and Without Conscience by Robert D. Hare to understand how a serial killer’s mind works. “We don’t want him to just be a killer. That’s boring.”
H.G.’s struggle to bring John back to Victorian England drives the first two hours of Time After Time, but the show isn’t all about time travel even if it tries to build adventures that reference or serve as inspirations for H.G. Wells’ novels, including The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and The Island of Dr. Moreau. Instead, episodes will spend, well, time grounding the travelers where they are and exploring how their surroundings affect their outlook.
It’s why a show based on a movie based on a book from 1979 can feel relevant today, Rodriguez says. “H.G. imagined a perfect world, and what he came to see was a lot of destruction and evil,” she explains. “For someone not from this time to be so disappointed in our era and in our technologies, it’s wonderful to see the dynamic between the generations that they had hoped for us, for humanity.” In a scene from the pilot, Wells stares at news reports about terrorism abroad, as well as a press conference conducted by the president of the United States, and tears begin to stream down his face. “It makes you think, ‘How do we not make the same mistakes?'” Rodriguez says. “‘Can we really learn something from the past?'”
Time After Time will ask the deeper questions, but Stroma promises the series doesn’t take itself too seriously. “This is lighter [than other shows], it’s more family-friendly, and there’s a fun aspect to it,” he says. Fun, even with all of the Jack the Ripper killings? Bowman thinks so: “It’s a big adventure story and a cat-and-mouse thriller and an epic love story,” he says, hinting at H.G.’s budding romance with Jane. “There’s humor and there’s drama.”
And there’s a tricked-out time machine. “It gets a little Pimp My Ride to it,” Stroma teases, laughing. “Once we’re in the future we’re able to adapt it to certain things, so it’s evolving with the episodes.” A time machine built in the basement of a 1893 London apartment could use a paint job every once in a while…
Time After Time premieres its first two episodes on Sunday, March 5 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.