Take Me to the Pilots '16: NBC's 'Timeless'

Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan's NBC time travel pilot avoids excessive convolution — at least for 45 minutes.
NBC's 'Timeless'

[I'll remind you at the top of every single one of these: These entries are not reviews. They're gut reactions to not-for-air pilots that could change in big and small ways between now and September or October or midseason. Full reviews will come then. They'll be longer. And more carefully considered. The opinions may even change. Who knows?]

Show: Timeless (NBC)
The Pitch: "Legends of Tomorrow if Legends of Tomorrow weren't a convoluted pile of nonsense. And without the superheroes too, if that seems important."
Quick Response: It'll be a year of time-travel shows on network TV, so Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan's NBC drama probably benefits from being the first I've watched since The CW's mess of a DC Universe crossover series. The premise — terrorist (Goran Visnjic) hijacks a time machine to go back and screw with history, and only a team featuring a historian (Abigail Spencer), soldier (Matt Lanter) and scientist (Malcolm Barrett) can stop him — is loopy but blissfully not overexplained, and the pilot jaunt featuring the Hindenburg disaster is well handled, especially if you expect the special effects to be nicely stylized rather than hyper-realistic. To me, the best you can do when introducing time travel is, "Here are a couple paradoxes, here are a couple rules, now go play and we'll add information later" and that's what Timeless does, with pilot director Neil Marshall pushing the pace over exposition. All three lead performances are good. Barrett, ostensibly here for comic relief, injects welcome frustration and anger at being placed in a past where he's a second-class citizen. Spencer withstands big piles of historical dialogue and adds real emotion to the pilot's conclusion. And Lanter just seems so happy not to be on The CW and playing a teenager, so good for him. Paterson Joseph and Sakina Jaffrey add cast depth and Visnjic looks enigmatic and thankfully doesn't monologue on his motivations yet. And, like I said, I really liked how they depicted the Hindenburg in the pilot, even if the rest of the treatment of 1937 felt a bit insular and limited.
Desire to Watch Again: Reasonably high, but with trepidation. The chances of this becoming excessively twisty, mythology-driven and goofy are verging on 100 percent, especially given Kripke's track record. I'd point the producers toward the short run of NBC's Journeyman for how to do short-term network time travel in a way that is both semi-procedural and builds serialization organically, not that Shawn Ryan needs me pointing him anywhere.

Take Me to the Pilots '16: ABC's 'Speechless'
Take Me to the Pilots '16: The CW's 'No Tomorrow'
Take Me to the Pilots '16: Fox's 'Pitch'
Take Me to the Pilots '16: CBS' 'Kevin Can Wait'
Take Me to the Pilots '16: NBC's 'The Good Place'
Take Me to the Pilots '16: ABC's 'Designated Survivor'
All of My 2015 Take Me to the Pilots Entries

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