[This is a review of the Frequency series premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
This fall, four out of five nights of The CW’s primetime schedule will be anchored by the network’s DC Comics-based superhero dramas. However, while the younger-skewing of the big five broadcast networks has fully invested in the current trend of comic book adaptations, The CW also has other types of dramas and dramedies among its lineup. In addition to mainstays Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries, The CW is home to Golden Globe-winning dramedies Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Plus, joining the ranks this fall are two new series — the lighter dramedy about living life to the fullest, No Tomorrow, and science-fiction drama Frequency.
Inspired by the 2000 film of the same name directed by Gregory Hoblit, Frequency was created by Jeremy Carver (Supernatural, Being Human). The series follows Detective Raimy Sullivan (The Flash’s Peyton List) who connects with her long-dead father, NYPD officer Frank Sullivan (The Messenger’s Riley Smith), over a ham radio. Twenty years prior, Frank went on an undercover mission, was corrupted, and was killed — leading Raimy to join the force as well, but prove to everyone — and herself — she’s nothing like her father. However, when she warns Frank about his death over the radio and saves his life, she changes her past, present, and future.
The pilot of Frequency was written by Carver and directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist); it follows Raimy through her life after Frank died, which includes her long-term boyfriend Daniel (Daniel Bonjour), her father’s former partner, Lieutenant Satch Reyna (Mekhi Phifer) as her mentor, and her mother Julie (Devin Kelley). However, when she saves Frank, her life in the present changes as a result of the butterfly effects from that altered event in the past. The pilot sets both Raimy and Frank on the path to unraveling the mystery of what happened in his case and why he was targeted on the night he originally died.
Much of the pilot episode of Frequency is spent introducing viewers to Raimy — in the present, on her 28th birthday and subsequent days after finding the ham radio — as well as Frank, who is living out his days prior to his death. For her part, Raimy still holds onto the anger she felt at her father because of how his two-year undercover stint, death, and reputation for being a crooked officer impacted how she saw him growing up. However, Raimy has found happiness in her life as well, learning that her boyfriend Daniel is preparing to propose to her and maintaining a close relationship with her mother. But, that begins to change first when the remains of a body are found in a marsh that point to a long-dormant serial killer called the Nightingale. Then, she discovers the radio.
Meanwhile in the past, Frank is working undercover — but still managing a relationship with young Raimy through means of secret messages and birthday presents in buried coffee cans. Speaking to Satch about his family, it becomes obvious that his time undercover has worn on him, especially due to his distance from his daughter. Once Frank and Raimy make contact through the ham radio, they slowly start to piece together who they are to each other and Raimy warns her father of the exact details of his death while she investigates his murder in the present.
However, when Frank doesn’t die as he originally did, Raimy is flooded with memories from the new timeline — though not replacing those she had of her previous life. Still, the new memories don’t arrive all at once, leading Raimy to try to have dinner with Daniel even though he claims not to know her. The biggest reveal, though, is when Raimy is called into the station and Satch tells her the remains they found are that of her mother, who went missing shortly after her dad evaded death. With Frank in the hospital in the past and Raimy left in a present that poses even more problems, the Frequency pilot establishes a time-bending father-daughter mystery series.
In its concept, Frequency tackles a question that many science fiction novels, stories, movies, and TV series have asked in the past — simply, if one minor detail of the past was changed, how would it affect the future? However, while the pilot of Frequency establishes that Frank evading death has significant consequences for the future and sets up a season-long mystery into the Nightingale, The CW series’ new spin on the classic sci-fi concept is the relationship between Frank and Raimy.
The father-daughter duo of Frank and Raimy are the core emotional element of Frequency, grounding the high-concept sci-fi drama in reality. Specifically, Raimy’s feelings toward her father in the first half of the episode — conflicted between the hero she knew as a child and the corrupt cop she learned he supposedly was — set the stage for what could be a compelling family drama at the heart of Frequency. List and Smith pull off their respective characters, giving the episode the heart that is has, but it remains to be seen if Frequency will be able to balance the show’s compelling character moments with its high-concept sci-fi premise and murder mystery storyline.
Unfortunately, the pilot episode of Frequency is tasked with hitting a number of plot points in order to establish the original timeline, introduce the unexplained time-bending ham radio, and re-establish the timeline along with its alterations. Moving from one point to the next doesn’t give the show much room to establish the characters or their relationships, before the necessary jumpoff point of the series — Frank evading death — alters everything. As a result, the revelation that Raimy’s boyfriend no longer knows who she is — and even, to an extent, the reveal that her mother was murdered by Nightingale — don’t have the emotional impact Carver was likely intending.
Still, despite the too-fast pacing of the episode, Frequency lays the groundwork for what could be a compelling sci-fi show — that is, if the series manages to balance the relationship between Frank and Raimy, the dynamics between the leads and the other characters, as well as the case of the Nightingale killer. The pilot of Frequency may not be the strongest start, but the new series may be able to build off the episode and lock into a solid sci-fi drama.
Frequency continues with ‘Signal and Noise’ Wednesday, October 12 at 9pm on The CW.