A Victorian Sci-Fi Writer and a Serial Killer Walk Into a NYC Hotel Bar…

This isn’t the start to a joke.  It’s a scene from Sunday night’s “Time After Time” pilot, and it’s probably one of the better scenes in the show’s two-hour opening shot.

I wanted to like “Time After Time,” ABC’s entrant into the time travel show arena.  (See also “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” on the CW, NBC’s “Timeless,” and Fox’s “Making History.”). Victorians trapped in modern-day New York?  One of them Jack the Ripper and the other H.G. Wells?  A perfectly steampunk-y time machine?  It’s like someone gave them a map to my buttons and told them which order to press them in.  This should have been the perfect show for me.

Which is why it’s so disappointing just how underwhelming the two-part pilot was.

All three leads are just kind of…there.  Present, but never really drawing me in.  Jane, the assistant curator who’s just in it to pay her rent (is that really the kind of job you’re that ambivalent about?) and seems far too ready to believe H.G’s wild story, is the least compelling of the lot.  The Ripper is charming and handsome, but a villain without a cause or a motivation (and I’ve opined on how little I enjoy stock villains before).  And H.G….I want to hug him and shake some sense/personality into him at the same time.

This two-parter hits on two of my biggest pet peeves, too:

  • First, we have the villain whose cleverness is supposed to, apparently, be demonstrated by a near-instant understanding of modern technology.    I hate this trope.  It’s vastly overused, and is usually accompanied by the hero’s complete comparative ineptitude.  Add to this the sudden and effortless ease with which our villain traverses modern New York on his first visit and…well, let’s put it this way: i’ve been to New York twice in my life and would have been utterly lost without an experienced guide and GPS.  
  • Secondly, there’s the show’s heavy handed insistence not only on pushing Jane and H.G. together, romantically, but that it has to be accomplished in the first two hours.  I’m all for a romantic subplot.  I enjoy them as much as the next person. But it has to grow organically.  Forcing it or rushing it just annoys the audience and cheapens the payoff.

Here’s the sad thing, though.  I’ll probably give it another shot.  Some shows (NBC’s “Timeless,” for instance) have a rough start, but find their footing over time.  The episode set during the Columbian Expo and featuring Harry Houdini and H.H. Holmes was one of my favorites, next to the Ian Fleming and Josephine Baker turns.  And the main trio are deep, nuanced, compelling characters.  (If you’re listening, Peacock, bring “the Time Team” back for season two).  Maybe “Time After Time” just needs the same chance to find a rhythm and  I’ll be revisiting this review for a mea culpa later.

Or, I’ll need a time machine so I can go back and stop myself from ever hearing this show even exists.