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Time After Time - Series Premiere - Advance Preview: "Dull, predictable, and badly told"

Halfway through the opening hour of Time After Time, which has a two-hour premiere on Sunday, March 5th at 9/8c on ABC, John Stevenson (Josh Bowman) uses a smartphone to make multiple phone calls with relative success and relative ease, despite suddenly being in 2017 New York as opposed to 1893 London. In and of itself, it’s somewhat jarring; that H.G. Wells (Freddie Stroma), who made the same time period change, appears more at sea with modern-day technology than a typical elderly person in an Apple store makes it less jarring than confusing. The difference in adaptation makes sense based on what the series quickly establishes, even before the two men journey 124 years into the future, but it’s one of many generic elements that are to be expected of a show in this genre.

Following Wells as he attempts to stop Stevenson, quickly revealed as the infamous Jack the Ripper, Time After Time is described by ABC not as a time travel show, but “a series that looks at the world of today through the eyes of yesterday while fully charged with danger and, adventure and centred in thrills, satire, humour – and most of all – an epic love story.” Based on the 1979 Karl Alexander book and Nicholas Meyer film of the same name, the series was created by Kevin Williamson.

Among other issues, it is that final ABC point that is particularly egregious. Upon initially arriving in 2017, both men encounter Jane Walker (Génesis Rodriguez), an assistant curator at the fictitious American Museum of Space-Science, but it is Wells in whom she takes an interest and much of the pilot sees the pair adjusting to one another (and, in the case of Wells, to modern day life). “I like this one. He's cute,” she says of him shortly after their first encounter. It’s the beginning of an inevitable descent into a ‘love at first sight’ story, and there are times where his inherent need to stop Stevenson is overwhelmed by his admiration and lust for Jane. Indeed, there are moments where Stroma’s gaze holds for an uncomfortable length of time, but the series is innately hesitant to consider it so.

But the problem is not the love story on its own. The problem is that the love story is dull, predictable, and badly told - the first half of the premiere, especially, features about as many noticeable clichés in this department as a single hour of television can - whereas Wells chasing Stevenson, the most compelling aspect of the series, is somewhat sidetracked by the Wells-Jane dynamic. Certainly, his first experiences in this new world need to be addressed, yet much of this comes in the form of presenting him with the idea that, sans Ripper, this time could work more wonders for him than his own, but not necessarily from the societal advances. It’s odd because one of the biggest factors in his decision to head for 2017 after Stevenson comes from a dream of a utopian future; though there are intermittent going on casual mentions of it, it’s far from a real focus.

What doesn’t help Time After Time is that it’s difficult to know how it can be sustained for twelve episodes, let alone any potential future seasons. Though the second hour does indicate how weekly instalments may transpire, it requires silliness, contrivances, and in-your-face-obviousness to prolong the story even that long - and that’s another problem. Where the two leads are both intelligent men, the series isn’t. Perhaps that’s the intent, that viewers can switch off their brain and have fun with watching it - even with so much choice, we do need shows like that. But it doesn’t handle that especially well, depriving itself of the potential it so clearly has.

It’s remarkable how entirely unremarkable the actors are. Stroma and Bowman put in solid performances, but they’re both hindered by a hesitance to give either much variation: Stroma alternates between and often blends desperate, scared, and flirtatious; Bowman is almost exclusively menacing. Both work but quickly become tiresome, and if the series gave them more to do than the status quo then it would be a welcome relief. Rodriguez too is fine, at least for the type of character she’s given, though the second episode allows her to showcase a hint of something more substantial. And Nicole Ari Parker, who plays a relative of Wells, gets more to do in the second hour but isn’t anything more than standard.

There are elements to like about Time After Time, but so few of them are highlighted and are often done so in such a haphazard manner that it becomes difficult to appreciate any of them. In the end, what could have become a strong, entertaining, dumb-fun show comes out uninteresting and flat.

(Also worth noting: as is so often the case nowadays, the trailer is quite literally a three-minute version of the pilot from beginning to end.)

When asked by Jane what he thinks of the future, Wells replies: “Dazzled, astonished. But also profoundly disappointed.” In the case of Time After Time, only one of those two points can be true. And, based on the opening two hours, it probably isn’t going to be the first one.

Time After Time’s two-hour premiere is at 9/8c on ABC on Sunday, March 5th.


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