Living in the time of Peak TV is both amazing and frustrating. There are only so many hours in a day, and even those who watch TV for a living are struggling to keep up. So the average viewer is missing out on huge chunks of entertainment that — under less bountiful circumstances — would’ve been enjoyed by millions more people every week. I believe one of those shows is the recently cancelled NBC series, Timeless.
Starring Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, Malcolm Barrett, Sakina Jaffrey, Paterson Joseph, Claudia Doumit, and Goran Višnjić, Timeless took the rote elements of shadowy government corporations and time travel and created something unique: a period piece wrapped in a conspiracy that wasn’t afraid to alter the timeline. Most shows that dabble in traveling through time — Doctor Who, 12 Monkeys, or Quantum Leap — either focus on keeping the current timeline intact, engage in the “time is a Möbius strip” theory, or are split into distinct “ours” and “not ours” timelines. The result keeps the timeline concurrent with the reality viewers live in with little to no exploration of the effects putzing with the timeline does to the one we inhabit. Timeless took another approach. It created permanent consequences both large and small.
For the most part, Timeless follows the perspective of the characters who travel through time in the Lifeboat. The series begins in our timeline, with historical events we all recognize. But as the heroes continue to hop to different moments, attempting to stop the villains from erasing world history as we know it, things change. Despite the the best efforts of the team, humanity is messy and events don’t always shake out the way they’re supposed to. Which mean, every time the cast of Timeless returns to the present, history has altered and they’re the only ones who remember the original timeline. This leads to fascinating drama as characters find their lives upended, people vanish from history altogether, and folks struggle with the morality of nudging the timeline to fix their past mistakes.
And that’s just my personal favorite part of the show. There’s also the government intrigue, the shadowy organization pulling the strings of history from behind the scenes, and the “Is he or isn’t he evil?” antagonist with ties to the main character who keeps trying to kill history’s prominent figures for mysterious reasons. Beyond this, the show acknowledges that being black or a woman in most of the past sucked at best and was downright deadly at worst. It also features high production values and earned critical acclaim. Under normal circumstances, Timeless might be going down in history as the must-see show of the year. It’d be right up there with other mystery box shows such as Lost. But in the era of Peak TV it somehow got lost in the shuffle. That’s not to say no one was watching. Timeless was what is called “on the bubble.” According to TV By The Numbers, it averaged about 4.62 million viewers live, with an additional 2-7 million once streaming numbers were bundled in. On a cable network — or even The CW — those would be robust. But NBC seems to like their shows to hang out around 5+ million live (or be cheap as heck to produce).
That’s not to say all is lost. Co-creator Shawn Ryan took to social media last night to say Timeless will be looking for a new home. The series is only half owned by NBC and, with the cancellation, it reverts to Sony who haven’t yet given up on the project. So, if you missed Timeless while it was on the air, do yourself a solid and watch the full season on NBC or Hulu. Then join the rest of the fans in helping #ResuscitateTimeless. (Especially since it ended on a cliffhanger.) If the era of Peak TV has shown us anything, it’s there’s a home for every show. You just have to find the right fit. Come on, The CW, you know you want another sci-fi series in your stable!