'Making History' Boss Previews a More Personal, "Everyman" Take on Time Travel

Making History Julius Sharpe Inset - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of FOX; Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Julius “Goldy” Sharpe is stepping out of the courtroom and going back in time.

The Grinder’s Sharpe is now set to debut Making History, a time travel comedy on Fox set to debut March 5. Sharpe tells THR that he planned on breaking new ground with his show about time travel, and though since his idea began to form, the subject became a hot topic on air (Timeless, Time After Time, Frequency), the comedic version in Making History focuses more on forming friendships across time, approaching the subject a bit more loosely.

From Last Man on Earth’s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and exec producers Seth Cohen and Jared Hess, Sharpe’s take doesn’t skirt the tough parts of history, but has no problem skirting the tougher parts of time travel. Instead of going back and forth through time in a “glowing orb,” as Sharpe says, the group travels in a duffel bag, in part because it seemed funnier and in part because “time travel doesn’t exist so it’s silly to take on the pressure of it,” he tells THR.

There are also no missions or daring feats of bravery in this version (not quite, at least). It all starts when one man, after visiting his girlfriend from the past (he visits “every weekend and sometimes Tuesdays”), begins to worry that his actions in colonial Massachusetts may have delayed the American Revolution. One piece of evidence: People are drinking a lot more tea than he’s comfortable with. So he enlists the help of a history professor to go back with him and see for himself.  

The actual time travelers include Dan (Adam Pally), a college facilities manager; Chris (Yessir Lester), a black college professor; and Deborah (Leighton Meester), Dan’s colonial girlfriend and daughter of Paul Revere (Brett Gelman). Sharpe says exploring “the emotional plight” of women and black men throughout history was important to him and to the show, but “I’m not a politician and I’m not a preacher and the show is not a sermon,” so the more grounded aspects of the show became its primary focus.

Leading that grounded group is Pally, a comedian/actor known for Happy Endings who was perfect for the role, according to Sharpe, because of his “everyman” quality. “You really believe that if a guy of average intelligence had access to time travel, this is what he’d be doing with it.”

Sharpe added he was attracted to the “more mundane” and personal aspects of time travel that are often overlooked, like how time travelers would have to explain their absences while in another era or how a 2017 man and 1770s woman could make it work.

All in all, he hopes people will take it all with a grain of salt, and be able to enjoy historical takes on tough subjects as “an escape from whatever people are angry about no matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on," but in his words: "Time will tell." 

So first things first: Why time travel?
At the time there were no time travel shows on the air, so it seemed like fresh ground. But you know, I wanted to do something completely different and unlike what I’ve done. It seemed like the best way to do the best parts of several shows at once: Romantic comedy, buddy comedy and period comedy, and period comedy also has a lot of action. So I wanted to make a show that felt like you didn’t want to wait to see what happened every week, and that’s hard to do in comedy but having time travel it seems more compelling.

How does this show stand apart from the other time travel-based series on TV right now? (Timeless, Time After Time, etc.)
It’s hopefully funnier than the dramas … I think that we are finding the fun in it where they find the gravity and drama in it. Our attitude toward history is a lot more liberal, I’m guessing. Our characters befriend one another across time, so that’s different. Our lead, Pally, has a colonial girlfriend, they become friends with John Hancock and Sam Adams. And our time machine is a duffel bag, so it’s not a cool glowing orb.

There’s a lot of giving odd characters real estate to be odd in a fun way and sort of shining a light on how colonial people and people from the past are both the same as us and very different from us. In some aspects they’re the best and worst of us – they’re so eloquent and learned but emotionally they’re unfamiliar with our therapized society, they're just creatures that go from 0 to 60 and back. But at the same time they’re so much smarter than us and so much more capable, and yet so much dumber than us. Deborah – she’s capable of doing things that have been largely lost to a vast portion of our society. She hunts and kills her dinner, she cooks based on things she finds in a garden, she makes her own clothes, all things that to her are so unspectacular but if you met anyone now, it’d be incredible today. Watching her see our society through fresh eyes, I hope makes people step back and look at ourselves in a new way. 

How big of a role does the actual physics of time travel play here? Considering they go back and forth in a duffel bag, how much did you think about that aspect going into it?
I just wanted to do enough to not anger science fiction fans while minimizing the distracting parts to it. Because to me it’s all about the characters, very little about the butterfly effect. To me, I want to see these people in 1919 Chicago, OK they’re there, let’s not think about it anymore. Time travel doesn’t exist so it’s silly to take on the pressure of trying to maintain the consistency of the theory. If I could do that I’d be inventing time travel, I wouldn’t be writing a show. I didn’t want the show to distract from watching these characters experience different times.

In a general sense, what would happen to your life if you started time traveling? The more mundane concerns, like you would start missing work, and the lies you have to come up with to cover the fact that you’re time traveling and how those lies turn into big things are interesting to me, as opposed to the larger implications.

So looking at this show as a comedy about friends that just so happens to travel through time, how did you find Adam Pally to lead this group? Why was he the perfect Dan?
He is such a great, lovable everyman. I think he’s so relatable and you really believe that if a guy of average intelligence had access to time travel this is what he’d be doing with it. He would not have a grander purpose than meeting a girlfriend. His ability to play the big giant comedy, then occasionally to really get the true pure emotions of his feelings for Deborah really grounds these ties in a nice way because you do want them to be together. If someone who was just more serious, it wouldn’t be a comedy; but someone who was more comedic, eventually you would not care as much.

What about Lester and Meester? Was it important to you to include the stories of a minority and a woman in this tale?
The plight of women in history, maybe because I have a wife and daughters, my mind just goes there, but it just seemed like a great opportunity to comment on inequality and unfairness in a way that had a lot of heart. I think having someone whose abilities are not appreciated in their time is a really relatable, emotional plight and I think that we all sort of have a feeling of, god if I was born 20 years earlier, a little later my life would be different and better, and a woman more so than a man seems like the way to address this.

Yassir’s character, I wanted to think of someone who could be destined for greatness if their circumstances were different and when approached by an idiot with a duffel bag, Yassir’s character does everything right, he’s really smart, he always makes sense and yet all that does is rain a parade of shit on him. And I think it’s a way of commenting on the times we’re living in, without being heavy handed, sometimes it doesn’t seem like sense is prevailing. And in terms of race, it's just the wider net we cast with this, the more interesting it became. It opened up nuances of how, history being a spectrum of up and down times for different kinds of people.

With the current political climate, is making a story about how history has shaped us easier or more difficult? How did you respond to that? 
It’s pretty difficult in that I have very strong personal convictions, but I want this to be a comedy and an escape from whatever people are angry about no matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on. I’m not a politician and I’m not a preacher and the show is not a sermon, but we can point to the larger folly of humankind and I think that U.S. history provides a very unique prism to comment on the folly of humankind and we can take full advantage of that. I just really hope that we got across what we hoped and people see what we were trying to communicate, but hey, time will tell. 

Making History premieres March 5 on Fox.