Are you watching NBC’s Timeless yet? If you’re a sci-if fan or an adventure fan or you just like great TV, you need to be.
Here’s the premise: Connor Mason builds a time machine and keeps it secret until Flynn, a former NSA agent, steals it. Homeland Security steps in, sending three people after him in an earlier prototype called the lifeboat. The three are Rufus, a self-described “coder who doesn’t like to leave my desk” but is a genius and the only qualified pilot, Lucy, a brilliant history professor with a mindblowing memory for detail, and Wyatt, a Delta Forces master sergeant who’s there to protect the other two and do all the dirty work. An unlikely trio, but, as it turns out, a golden one.
As the first season nears its end and viewers wait to find out if it’s getting renewed, Lucy, Rufus and Wyatt keep visiting new time periods. And while Flynn messes with history and kills innocent people, he also makes the team aware that a group called Rittenhouse presents an even more dangerous threat and has enough power in the present to threaten, control and manipulate pretty much anyone. The plot thickens from there, as does the chemistry among the three stars.
Great premise, great characters, now on to 15 Reasons You Should Be Watching Timeless.
15. It’s FUN
See that? That’s Lucy and Rufus hanging out with Ernest Hemingway, watching Josephine Baker perform. That’s not the only advantage to hanging with history’s most famous; Wyatt and Rufus get caught in a booby-trapped hotel in Chicago in 1893, and Lucy comes to their rescue. “I brought Harry Houdini!” she tells them triumphantly.
Despite the intensity of the drama, this show is all about fun. The time machine looks like a big ball –sort of like an altered CBS logo, which is odd as it’s on NBC — and once it starts spinning, things get wacky. Every week we’re somewhere brand new and our characters have to reinvent themselves again. We’re in as much awe as they are when they find themselves in places they’ve only read about, and along for the ride wherever they go. Timeless has the spirit of those DC comic shows, which remember that their audience wants to be entertained, above all. Watergate, flappers, Jesse James, NASA, Bonnie & Clyde … AMUSE ME, you can say to Timeless, and it will obey.
14. It’s Ripe for Fandom (and has Celebrity Fans Already)
Costumes, eras, props, COSPLAY. Weekly online discussions, favorite characters to follow, so many long tail pieces of the puzzle to analyze. Timeless is ripe for deep dive fandom, and the show stands up to both binging and repeat viewing as you scrape up the details you missed the first time through.
Celebrity fans abound. Misha Collins and Armin Shimerman both talked about how excited they were to be guest starring, and William Shatner tweets about it regularly. Mark Hamill tweeted his regret that he didn’t speak to Abigail Spencer about how much he likes her on the show when they were on the same flight, prompting her reply “freaking out on the inside.” What else has Captain Kirk‘s AND Luke Skywalker‘s endorsement?
The show’s biggest fan seems to be Leslie Jones, who has been live-tweeting the show to boost the live viewing ratings, and talking it up on Saturday Night Live. She tweets about it so much that Timeless producers told her they’d write her a part if she can get to Vancouver, where they shoot.
13. Those Visuals
This is the reason the show is expensive; they have to invest in different visuals every week, and the results are striking. Wardrobe and makeup, sets and props, everything that goes into production design is a visual feast.
The clothing is amazing, from Lucy’s insanely impractical petticoats and bonnets to Wyatt’s 70s suit that he says makes him look like Greg Brady. Josephine Baker looked utterly spectacular, and clothes in Vegas in the 60s were as glamorous and colorful as uniforms and bandages in 1754 were gritty and germy. (We like Lucy’s regular clothes, too.)
As for locations, the World’s Fair of 1893 (with the first ferris wheel) in Chicago was gorgeous, the Hindenburg was breathtaking, and the cars of the Bonnie & Clyde era looked beautifully authentic. And it’s not just about having a large scale; the charm of watching Harry Houdini do tricks in a circus tent wouldn’t have worked without all that attention to the locks on the trunk, the hanging bulbs behind him, and the cheap folding chairs.
12. Great Guest Stars
Notable actors, good ones, pop up regularly. Matt Frewer had a continuing story for a while as Rufus’ mentor-turned-Flynn-collaborator Anthony Bruhl. Robert Pine (aka Chris Pine’s dad and well known to original CHiPs fans) played an astronaut who innocently gave Flynn and Bruhl just enough information to make them go into the past and kill his younger self. Sean Maguire (Once Upon a Time‘s Robin Hood) was Ian Fleming, Annie Wersching (Renee Walker, 24) is one of the original pilots of the mother ship, long thought dead and now working with Flynn. John Getz is Rittenhouse’s Benjamin Cahill, Susanna Thompson (Arrow, and sometimes the Borg Queen) plays Lucy’s mom, David Sutcliffe (Chris from Gilmore Girls) was Lucy’s boss in the pilot, and Twin Peaks‘ Hank, Chris Mulkey, was chasing Bonnie & Clyde. And the ultimate supervillain, founder of Rittenhouse, was played Armin Shimerman, Deep Space Nine‘s Quark/Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Principal Snyder. Coming up this week, Supernatural‘s Misha Collins is playing Eliot Ness, facing off against Tyrant‘s Cameron Gharaee as Al Capone.
Nothing makes history come alive more than making history come alive, right? How about meeting Abraham Lincoln right before you sit down to watch a play? (Yes, THAT theater and THAT play.)
Lucy, Rufus, and Wyatt go to pivotal moments and interact with key historical figures, and best of all, are frequently in total awe of the people they’re meeting. They witness the launch of the Hindenburg, the tense moments at NASA when they lose contact with the astronauts, the gangster heyday of Vegas and the brutality of the 18th century. They meet Benedict Arnold, and go on the run with with Bonnie & Clyde. Chasing bad guys is a lot more interesting when you’ve teamed up with Ernest Hemingway or The Lone Ranger.
You’ll be looking people up after each episode, like architect Sophie Hayden, JFK mistress Judith Campbell, and Josephine Baker, who you may have forgotten was a member of the French Resistance. Everyone knows about Katherine Johnson now, thanks to Hidden Figures, but not everyone’s familiar with Bass Reeves, who may or may not have inspired the legend of the Lone Ranger, but is well worth knowing about.
10. Time Travel is Wacky
So every time travel show has to set up its own rules. Rule one, they can’t go back to any time in which they already exist. Somebody tried, Rufus tells them, and that person came back in pieces. (We’re assuming there’s something about ripping the very fabric of the space-time continuum, but they don’t say it.) So that also rules out going back to a time they already went back to, to try again. No do-overs!
The writers also understand the butterfly effect. Fewer people die in the Hindenburg and suddenly Lucy doesn’t have a sister anymore, her mother doesn’t have cancer, and she’s engaged … all this after visiting New Jersey in 1937. Every person killed, every dead person allowed to live, every action thwarted or taken has possible repercussions, and Flynn doesn’t care. Show co-creator Eric Kripke says the characters “are basically chasing after a violent terrorist in the middle of a museum where they can’t knock over everything.”
On the plus side, Lucy, Wyatt and Rufus become characters in a James Bond movie. Sometimes time travel is cool, too.
9. The Writing is Excellent
There are two important parts of writing a great show: one, the show’s storyline, and two, the dialogue. The writers on Timeless are nailing both. Repeat viewings will tell you that every important detail of the show’s long tail story of has been worked out in detail and put in place from the very first episode. The characters have evolved, too, and every change feels right.
As for the dialogue, it’s free of clichés, and clever. Just when you think you know the rest of someone’s line, something entirely different comes out. The heartfelt speeches are believable and convincing; we still don’t know why Lucy couldn’t change Charles Lindbergh’s mind but we’re glad Hemingway got through to Rufus. Best of all, there’s a lot of humor in the show, whether it’s the wisecracks and asides, or the awesome names they come up with whenever anybody asks who they are. They’ve been Nurse Jackie who works at General Hospital, Denzel Washington, Kanye, Wesley Snipes (printed on Rufus’ ID!), Dr. Quinn (Medicine Woman) and Agent Mulder, among others.
8. It’s Culturally Relevant
Everyone knows who’s got the best thing going in any time period: it’s the white guy. Wyatt can fit in anywhere, but not so the others. “There is literally no place in American history that will be awesome for me,” Rufus says before his first mission. That’s why he’s a janitor at NASA in 1969. Lucy’s also stuck with insulting limitations, but it’s still Rufus who is either in constant physical danger or invisible. He knows it, too, effortlessly acquiring a car in Vegas by pretending to be a valet. “See?” he says. “Invisible.”
His speech to a racist jailer in the first episode who insists on calling him boy says it all:
“I’m in the damn Stone Age, but, man, I hope you live a long, long life. Long enough to see Michael Jordan dunk, Michael Jackson dance, Mike Tyson punch, really, just, any black guy named Michael. OJ? Yeah, he gets off. He did it, but we don’t care. And Obama, he’s the president. 2008. That’s gonna suck for you! I hope you see it all. Because the future is not on your side … boy.”
7. The Supporting Characters are Fascinating
They’ve stocked the show with some great supporting characters. There’s Denise Christopher of Homeland Security, who heads up the time travel project. She’s got rock-solid integrity, has the backs of our time travelers even when they screw up, and is wise enough too hide keep her personal life hidden even before she learns about Rittenhouse. We see her emotional side when she invites Lucy to meet her family, so that if time changes and she forgets them, someone will still know they existed.
Connor Mason, who invented the time machine, is a man caught between his friendships and the trap set by Rittenhouse. He must do what they tell him but pretend they’re not pulling his strings, and viewers are torn between sympathizing with him and despising him for compromising Rufus.
Then there’s tech wiz Jiya, who Rufus starts dating early on after getting his first adrenaline jolt from his visit to the Hindenburg launch. She’s smart, resourceful, loyal, and argues Star Trek to his Star Wars. (She also has a Warhol-esque painting of the Vulcan hand salute in her apartment.)
6. Flynn (Goran Višnjić)
Flynn is one of those villains that you can never really get a fix on. He seems ruthless, almost psychotic in some moments, willing to kill anyone who stands in his way without even giving them a chance to step out of it. Then suddenly, he’s taking time to explain what he’s doing and why, to try to make our intrepid time travelers understand his motivation and grasp the truth about Rittenhouse. One minute he’s seeking their understanding, the next he’s killing anyone who walks through the door. While the others are looking to preserve history as much as possible, he’s crashing through it, oblivious to any repercussions that fall outside of his single-minded goal: erasing Rittenhouse before they kill his family.
And yet sometimes, in moments, you can see sadness mixed in with his thirst for revenge. And how did he get Lucy’s diary, or the name of Wyatt’s wife’s killer? Where does he get his time period-specific wardrobe and connections? He’s mysterious and scary, but has a touch of pathos too. We know there’s more there and can’t wait to find out what it is.
5. Rittenhouse, aka the Real Bad Guys
At first it’s just a name they keep saying: Rittenhouse. Then more episodes rolled out and we learned that Rittenhouse isn’t some paranoid delusion of Flynn’s, it’s very real, and incredibly powerful. In the present, Rittenhouse killed Flynn’s family and framed him for it, and hacked Rufus’ car to threaten his family too. Their ties to Connor Mason run deep … and so do their ties to key figures in history, like Charles Lindbergh (who went from adventurous flyboy to Nazi sympathizer) and Benedict Arnold.
Rittenhouse has been around a long time, it turns out, and has been the puppet master of history for decades, if not centuries. Rittenhouse doesn’t believe in democracy, and thinks that “peasants” aren’t capable of making decisions for themselves. Now a large organization, it started out as one person: David Rittenhouse (Armin Shimernan) is one hell of a bad guy, but he’s just the tip of the evil iceberg.
4. Wyatt (Matt Lanter)
At first Wyatt seems to be there primarily for eye candy. He’s a handsome devil! But he’s there to be the tough guy, to protect everyone from danger, and kill whoever needs killing; Homeland Security wants him to take out Flynn. At the beginning, Rufus and Lucy are horrified by how violent he is, requesting that he maybe scale back on the killing a little, but as a bond forms among the three of them, they finally start to trust him.
And our Wyatt is a romantic. His wife was killed and he’s in this to get her back. He’s smart–even speaks four languages–and just as good as figuring out a game plan or improvising as the others. He’s also funny, but has no time for nonsense. He’s the only one in the trio who doesn’t keep secrets, and his is the name the other two call whenever they’re in trouble.
Bonus: We loved when he accused Flynn of trying to “Jedi mind trick” him; Lanter was the voice of Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Clone Wars for seven years.
3. Lucy (Abigail Spencer)
When we first meet Lucy, she’s teaching a history class with a smile on her face, making us wish any of the history classes we took in college were half that engaging. But she’s not getting tenure so her career is stalled, and she lives with her sister and her dying mother, all of which changes after the first episode.
When she’s recruited for the time travel project, she’s terrified but can’t resist the pull of actually visiting the places and times she’s spent her life studying. Lucy brings expertise to the mix; not only can she tell them who people are and what’s supposed to happen, but she knows the details behind them, giving her the advantage with everyone from serial killer H.H. Holmes to Watergate’s “Deep Throat.”
Her thrill at being in each time period–well, most of them–is strong enough to outweigh her fear and keep her going, and her moral center is strong, even as it’s challenged at every step. And we loved when she told off a “rocket scientist” at NASA for calling her nicknames that sounded like a baby.
2. Rufus (Malcolm Barrett)
Rufus starts out as a shy, scared programmer with a silent crush on a co-worker, but even in the first episode we get a glimpse of the bravery he hides under his geek guy cred. When the gunmen show up, he grabs Jiya and pulls her to the floor, putting himself between her and the shooters. We also know he’s close to his family, valuing their safety above his own very impressive career.
Rufus is a man in conflict: he wants a quiet life in front of the computer but his skill set makes him essential to the mission; he’s the only one capable of piloting the ship AND knowing how to MacGyver any technoloogical needs they might have in backwards cultures. As a black man traveling back into the past, he provides a lot of necessary social commentary, all done from the perspective of someone who has to experience racial prejudice at a level even he isn’t used to. He’s also a supergenius who went to MIT, has a great sense of humor, and takes a stand when push comes to shove. Also, who else could figure out how to make tin foil in 1754?
1. The stakes are deeply personal, and scarily global – everything matters
Remember that first season of 24, which started out being about Jack’s missing daughter and then ended up being about saving his family AND the President of the United States (and maybe the free world) at the same time? Timeless has that going on too.
Their mission may be to save history and stop Flynn from smashing it to pieces, but for Wyatt and Lucy, things are personal too. Wyatt took the job because he has a not-so-secret plan to prevent his wife from being killed, and tries everything he can think of, even the Back to the Future trick of sending a telegram decades before the events will happen. And in the very first episode, we see that Lucy and her sister live with their very sick mother, who appears to be dying of cancer. When she returns from her first mission, her mom is healthy and up and around, but her sister’s existence has been erased completely. She’s even disappeared from photos she used to be in. And oh yeah, Lucy’s engaged to some hunky dude she doesn’t recognize. Could be worse but … no, it’s bad.
They live in fear of screwing up everything from their own personal lives to civilization as they know it, which heightens the stakes of everything they do … and they’re the only three people who will ever know what’s changed.
Timeless airs Monday nights on NBC.