Touched by a Time Traveller
NBC, Mondays, 8/7 e/c
Written by Kevin Falls
Directed by Alex Graves
Journeyman’s sophomore episode improves some on last week’s pilot, but is still stumbling dangerously close to soap-opera territory. In “Friendly Skies”, Dan Vasser (Kevin McKidd) gets yanked backwards into several times, to deliver a baby girl, connect with her mother, connect daughter to father, and finally bring father, grown daughter, and a stranger together. Is he there to deliver the baby? Or is he there to support the mother in some task? No, wait, he’s there to let the baby’s father meet his grown-up daughter? No, he’s there to keep the rejected daughter from drinking herself to death? Wrong on all counts; Dan’s “task” is not what we thought it was. Every time we think we know what this story is about, it turns ninety degrees. That’s intriguing and compelling, and if the writing of the time travel stories continues on this level, this series will be on my must-see list all year. But first, Journeyman needs to re-tool an annoying cliché.
The persistent and unreasonable incredulity of Dan’s wife, Katie (Gretchen Egolf), is a problem. Okay, when your husband, who claims to have been involuntarily time traveling, vanishes from an airplane in mid-air, it’s time to ditch the skepticism. Why is she still harboring doubts about what’s happening to him? Why does she seem to continue to blame him? He’s made it clear he can’t control what’s happening to him, so why is she threatening him with loss of his family? The producers are trying to ramp up the emotional stakes in Dan’s life, but all they’ve done is paint his wife as either a bitch or a moron. I can understand why time traveling might put a strain on a marriage/job/friendship, but I think it would have been better to have held off on introducing all these emo dramas until way, way later in the season. Right now, both we and Dan are getting our sea legs on this time travel thing.
Of course time travel is nothing new in television, but what I like about Journeyman’s approach is that Dan goes back and forth in time, in the space of a single story. He jumps to 1979, then home to 2007, then back to 1985, and so forth. Disorienting but fun. This episode introduced a neat solution to the cell phone problem–Dan’s modern iPhone won’t work in 1994, but his old, outmoded Motorola will, if he can only find a charger for it. Dan jumps back to 1994, and by a miracle still has the key to his old apartment. Where, of course, he finds his old charger. Cute. Having Dan’s adventures all take place in the same city where he has lived for 20 years or more is a great idea, since he has apartments, friends, resources scattered all through time that he can call on. This makes the character less helpless in his time jaunts than he might otherwise be, and that’s a good thing. I like to see Dan being resourceful and canny, rather than helpless.
I’m also very much enjoying scenes where Modern Dan runs into Younger Dan. Modern Dan hides from his younger self (obviously, or he’d remember having met himself years ago), and gets to watch himself make out with his old girlfriend, who gossips with his brother’s old girlfriend, who is Modern Dan’s wife. I hope this familial melodrama doesn’t suck too much time out of the time travel plots, going forward. I loved the scenes of Dan and his brother Jack (Reed Diamond) watching football, drinking beer in perfect synchronization. I did not so much enjoy the reappearance of Dan’s lost love Livia (Moon Bloodgood) in a time travel segment, spouting the same kind of content-free koans that Deep Throat used to offer Agent Mulder onThe X-Files. Why bother to bring her onstage if she offers nothing but “I don’t know”?
The plot twists at the end made up for a lot of the emotional sidetracking that went on in the middle acts, but I have to wonder how many viewers were still aboard by the time the plot landed. The actual time travel tale was well written, well paced, and interesting; I’d have been happier with more of that and less of Emo!Dan. Generally, I like Dan, and I like his quick-witted responses/solutions to his time travel dilemmas. I am not so sure I like the sentimental ending each of these stories has–Dan as some kind of second-hand time angel, saving lives by saving lives. I’d like a little more darkness there; not all the tragedy has to be in Dan’s personal life. In any case, I’ll be tuning in again next week, warily, hoping for more plot and less angst.