As I’ve said before, I really can’t be doing with storylines about travelling in time, any more than I can be bothered with dream sequences: all of that plot-holed changing-the-past-to-change-the-future nonsense. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at NBC’s time-travel drama Timeless. An armed gang led by Garcia Flynn (Goran Višnjić), a former NSA asset in East Europe who killed his wife and child then went rogue (except he probably didn’t do any of these things), storm a building owned by zillionaire Connor Mason (Paterson Joseph), steal a time machine, and disappear into the past.
Fortunately, Mason has a prototype time machine tucked away somewhere, and Homeland Security immediately rounds up a team to go after Flynn, assembled along the same gender and racial lines as The Thompson Twins, the 80s pop group: reputedly brilliant but still untenured history professor Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer); Delta Force soldier and Secret Pain-possessing Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter); and Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett), a programmer from Mason’s company. Pleasingly, the show doesn’t allow them to spend too much time agonising about whether or not to participate; they just get on with it.
And so to May 1937, where – as the cold open has already implied – the Case of the Week centres on the Hindenburg disaster. Flynn manages to prevent the airship from crashing and burning, although it seems as if his motive is simply to delay the explosion until the following day, when the Hindenburg will be laden with passengers, some of historical significance, travelling from America to Europe. The bomb he plants has an LED countdown on it, so that anyone planning to defuse it will know exactly how long he’s got to do it, which is handy.
I must admit that I expected the Thompson Twins to find a way of restoring history to its original state. That they fail to do so, thus altering Lucy’s 2016 reality in some fairly hefty ways, suggests that this show is aiming a little higher than it otherwise might.
Which is to say that I enjoyed Timeless. It’s complete nonsense, of course – as well as Secret Pain and the LED timer there’s a Mysterious Word – but to its credit the show repeatedly takes the opportunity to find humour of the very pointed kind in respect of the problems encountered by someone of Rufus’s race (he’s African American): “There’s literally no place in American history that’ll be awesome for me”, he observes when told that he’ll be going back in time; then, after he, Lucy, and Wyatt catch a bus in 1937, he reminds us on disembarking that “the back of the bus was amazing”. Spencer, Lanter, and Barrett are all attractive screen presences, and I’m guessing that in due course we’ll be expected to ship Lyatt, which I for one am already prepared to sign up to.
And there’s clearly very much more to Flynn than meets the eye; rather than the gleeful mien of a master criminal turning history upside down, he has the grim countenance of someone doing what needs to be done. With big business and the government both available as potential villains, it seems reasonable to speculate that Flynn is more sinned against.
Next week: the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. I don’t see how I can possibly resist.