Pilot Season: Timeless Has Interesting Concepts, but Doesn’t Go Deep Enough


Image: NBC

Genre: Sci-fi

Synopsis: A private company builds a time machine, which is promptly hijacked by criminals attempting to change the history of America. To stop them, history professor Lucy, soldier Wyatt, and engineer Rufus are sent back as well.

Series: First season is airing.

I’ve Watched: First episode.

Verdict: Mostly a missed opportunity.


The pilot episode could definitely have been better, but pilots are notorious for being bad, so take this first episode review with a grain of salt. Or at least an understanding that many shows improve after their first few episodes. Personally, I’d call this episode average–good enough, but after watching masterworks like Stranger Things or Orphan Black, it’s hard to settle. There are some interesting concepts here, but the execution is a little shaky.

I do like some of the ideas. There are obviously secrets to be discovered about each of the characters. Lucy might have ties she doesn’t even know about to the criminals. Rufus is being forced into doing something–we don’t know what–behind his team’s back.

Then there was one especially intriguing moment where the bad guys prevented a disaster from happening by using their knowledge of the future. Which is a little awkward for our protagonists, given that they’re supposed to stop them. It could have put them in the morally ambiguous position of choosing between the greater good and the immediate good. But the story didn’t go that way, only toying with the concept long enough to show how cool it would be.

The characters are interesting on the surface–especially Lucy–but too shallow. For example, Wyatt breaks ranks fast because he meets a woman who reminds him of his late wife, and becomes hung up on saving her. (Also, flirting with her, which is super weird.) This just isn’t enough. People aren’t interchangeable like that. If the show wanted us to believe something about this woman reminded him of his wife, it needed to make us understand what. It needed to lay more groundwork in letting us know about his wife, then draw parallels between the two women. It needed the resemblance to be more than strictly visual, and Wyatt needed to interact with her for more than three minutes. Otherwise, we don’t feel his motivation. We don’t really understand who he cares about, or how it’s possible to take one look at a woman and turn her into a surrogate for someone you lost.

There was one scene that I think typifies both the positives and negatives of how Timeless works. Lucy goes to see her comatose mother, takes out a snickers bar, then puts it on the table–on top of a pile of other snickers bars. We immediately know that her mother likes the candy bar and that she’s been unconscious long enough that the others have been untouched. This lets us feel Lucy’s desperation–she keeps bringing more every day in the hopes that her mother will be awake enough to enjoy it, but every time she walks into the room, that hope is crushed.

This scene is both good and bad. It gives us a lot of information and an understanding of Lucy’s emotional state with one very concise shot. That’s impressive, from a storytelling perspective, and it’s clever. So long as nothing makes us think too hard about it, it comes off as a great scene.

But if it has to stand up to scrutiny, then it sacrifices something in believability. In this scene, Lucy is the character who matters, and her mother is a prop rather than a person. Would anyone really keep bringing the same candy bar to a comatose relative who wasn’t waking up, and piling it on a side table? That’s way too much candy for a sick person to wake up to. It gives the audience a sense of Lucy’s despair, but if Lucy’s mother had ever woken up, she’d sense her daughter’s despair in it, too. The pile of candy becomes a burden to the person who’s actually in the hospital bed, and that makes Lucy seem inconsiderate.

Obviously, we’re not supposed to read too much into the scene. But that’s exactly what makes the entire show feel so shallow. We’re not supposed to read too much into anything. This would have been fine in a show that otherwise didn’t take any obvious shortcuts, but Timeless isn’t that show. I can handle plot holes in an otherwise engaging story–as proven by Legends of Tomorrow–but here, the wrong shortcuts are taken too often, and character work suffers. Maybe if there was something else to engage me, maybe if the plot or concepts were tackled in a strong and interesting way, I’d be fine with it. But something has to stand out, in a good way.

I’ll give it a few more episodes. The best thing about the show so far is Lucy, who’s got this fascinating mix of expertise, confidence, and awkwardness. Maybe Timeless will manage to find its stride, but it’s got to start leaning on its strengths. And fixing what it’s done with Wyatt, because right now, how he treats people is off-putting.


5 thoughts on “Pilot Season: Timeless Has Interesting Concepts, but Doesn’t Go Deep Enough”

  1. Hey there again Marie. I actually stopped in here to say I hope I never seemed overly contrary back before. I’m a bit good at the whole “contrarian” thing naturally, and didn’t want you to think I was ever singling you out. I know I’ve been a bit abrasive in the past, which is code for “asshole” so I hoped that’s not how you saw my take on things, but I’m not going to dismiss the possibility.

    Despite that, I do disagree a little on this one. I liked some things with this show. For starters, they’re actually changing historical events. In most other shows, you know things are going to either work out like they did, or in a close enough version as to be about the same. This time, you can’t be sure the story’s going to end like it’s supposed to. History is changing, and it is affecting the main characters in some pretty important ways for them.

    Another thing I liked was that they actually acknowledged the trope about “No Equal Opportunity Time Travel” with all problems that result from someone who isn’t white going back in time.

    In my case, I also saw the version that had the second episode showing right after the first, so I got to see where these kept being themes, so that’s a little cheating on my part. But yeah, the idea that perhaps they should try to change things for the better comes up again, so maybe they’ll stick with it. Episode 2, they had a pretty good reason for wanting to mess with history, if somewhat more idealistic than realistic in one case. Not that that’s a bad thing, given the reason and the history itself.

    I hope everything’s going ok over there, and once again, I’m sorry if I ever seemed overly critical of you.


    1. No, it’s fine. You always came off as intellectually disagreeing with my opinions, and that’s a good thing. I believe people should be comfortable doing that. Though I do also respect that you chose to check in and make sure those disagreements never felt too personal for me–they didn’t, but I appreciate the concern.

      I guess some of the things you listed as positives don’t stand out for me, partly because I’ve seen them done better in Legends of Tomorrow. In that show, the protagonists are actively trying to change history, though with a minimal effect on the timeline otherwise. One character almost prevented himself from meeting his future wife. And one episode especially addressed how characters that are black, or bisexual, interact with that history.

      Maybe it’s not fair to compare, when I’ve seen much more of Legends of Tomorrow than the single episode I watched for Timeless. But that does mean I won’t give Timeless points just for having those elements. They have to be well done. Having good ideas isn’t enough, if the execution puts me off.


      1. Well, I know I’ve had a tendency, like I said, to be a bit of an asshole, make things personal, and otherwise not be the best at having a civil discussion.

        I haven’t seen Legends of Tomorrow unfortunately. I suspect I’d like it quite a bit, since I enjoy Arrow and especially The Flash. Haven’t been able to keep up with them as well lately either. Though it did suck that they messed with the Rogues a bit. I didn’t feel there was any reason to diminish the accomplishments of Captain Cold and Heatwave by making their weapons stolen rather than ones they invented themselves. Then there’s Golden Glider, who is pretty much just in-name-only. I’m a fan of the Rogues. There’s no reason superhero media has to be too mature for the Silver Age.


        1. I’m the opposite, where I’ve only seen bits and pieces of Arrow, and don’t follow Flash at all. There’s a lot out there to keep up with, so I guess all of us have to pick and choose. (Not really familiar with the Rogues, so can’t comment on that.)


        2. The Rogues are a collection of Flash’s villains who tend to stick together, almost like a family, complete with their own collective hideout, hidden graveyard for fallen Rogues, and even the occasional party. They have certain rule, too. No killing any of the speedsters they oppose, for instance. No killing women or children also seemed to be one as of Blackest Night.

          They tend to be a bit goofy-seeming. Captain Cold, Heatwave, The Trickster, The Top, Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, Pied Piper, and Captain Boomerang are regular members at various times.

          They regularly oppose the fastest man in the world, and the only one I listed above with powers is The Top. So they get by with technology. The Flash can’t keep them in prison, because they’re too good at avoiding being caught or escaping from prison, sometimes seconds after he put them there. They don’t even go all out when they fight the Flash since they don’t want to kill him. And they don’t care about world domination or blowing up the planet. They just want enough money to pursue whatever it is they like using it for.

          They have a sometimes-friendly adversarial relationship with the Flash at times. They once invited him to a party and he actually showed up with a date.

          Just because they are bad guys doesn’t mean they are bad guys, to paraphrase Zangief.


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