On Sunday, ABC’s Time After Time joined the growing ranks of silly time-travel shows that includes Timeless, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and Making History, which premiered last weekend, too. While the first two episodes of this sci-fi thriller don’t present a clear picture of what to expect from the show week-to-week — the press materials stress that this is “not a time-travel show,” but don’t really make clear what it will be — I find the ridiculousness of it all to be rather charming, thanks mostly to the two leads’ committed performances.
Developed for TV by Kevin Williamson (Scream, The Following) and based on the 1979 movie and book of the same name, Time After Time is about now-hot author H.G. Wells (UnREAL‘s Freddie Stroma), who travels from 1894 to 2017 in order to chase after his best friend Dr. John Stevenson (Revenge‘s Josh Bowman), who he just discovered is noted serial killer Jack the Ripper — also hot. What ensues is basically a cat and mouse game between two men in a strange future that neither of them could’ve fully predicted. Along the way, Wells teams up with his obvious intended romantic interest, museum curator Jane Walker (Genesis Rodriguez), but it’s not long before she finds herself in the middle of this little game.
I’ll admit, I was initially turned off by the premise of the show because I had no interest in spending so much time with a sexy serial killer who specifically targeted women. Does television really need another show that features the victimization of women? The answer is definitely no. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how restrained the first two episodes were when it came to this potentially troubling setup. (Is this an instance where we should thank the constraints of broadcast network television?) There are surprising moments when the show avoids giving into those darker impulses, and Bowman never lets you forget that the Ripper is, well, the Ripper; He’s clearly the villain of the story.
Time After Time wants to be a good science-fiction show, meaning it wants to use these fish-out-of-water storylines to comment on today; however, it often stumbles when going beyond simple asides like Wells exclaiming, “Does everyone in this era carry a firearm?” When Wells arrives in 2017, he’s disappointed to find that the Utopia he envisioned hasn’t come to pass, and there’s a melodramatic scene in which he cries while watching news reports about the violence around the world. It ends up being more humorous than insightful — I don’t think we actually need someone from the past to tell us how dark our present is. However, these stumbles don’t detract from Stroma’s great performance. He’s convincing as the hero of the story and makes Wells’ idealism and naivety very endearing.
Beyond its goals of commentary, it’s not clear whether or not Wells chasing Jack around the present can support an entire season. There are hints that there’s more going on apart from this battle of wits, but those seeds are just barely planted in the first two hours. If the show manages to define itself quickly, it has the potential to become a fun and entertaining diversion. B-
Time After Time airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.