Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"Timeless" and "This is Us" - Check 'em out why?

Pilot season is like dating. Lots of exciting choices that don't pan out, or are pulled too early to tell. So it's a risk to get into a show. Your heart might get broken because it's good and cancelled...or good and keeps on making you sob every week.

Such a show is "This is Us" and thankfully it seems to be well received thus far, so hopefully we don't have to worry about cancellation. I decided to wait a couple of weeks to review it, in order to see if the proceeding episodes lived up to the promise of the pilot - and they did.

When "Parenthood" ended, I was far from the only viewer feeling a big gap in the 'emotional family drama' TV line-up. "This is Us" is clearly NBC's replacement offering, right down to casting a former "Gilmore Girls" star as a lead (Milo Ventimigila). Replacements are risky, of course, since a weak carbon copy is not what we're truly seeking after. "This is Us", however, claims it's own territory from the start, telling the story of four people with the same birthday...

... okay, that's kind of a lame catchphrase, but honestly I can't tell you much more without giving away some big twists. Each episode adds new layers to this story that deepens and enriches the relationships and journeys of the cast. The characters are well drawn from the get-go, each offering a unique look at a different perspective/situation.

From a content perspective, it is similar to "Parenthood." There is one character in particular who is rather crude, but the crudeness is a coping method that allows him to remain upbeat in a difficult situation. I don't appreciate the content, but I can understand the function (and the character is an important one). I wouldn't watch this show with the kids, but that's why it's aired so late in the first place.

Be warned - future blog posts about "This is Us" will contain spoilers, as there is no way to give details about this show without giving away major plot twists. However, the biggest twist of all is in the first episode.

I am really excited about this show and can't wait to catch up every week. I'd recommend it to any fan of family drama, or good character drama in general. Hurry up and catch it on Hulu before it disappears!

Back to the quagmire of pilot season 'dating'... Science Fiction, in particular, seems to fail more than deliver. And time travel? Well, we know how difficult it is to find good time travel stories. "Doctor Who" succeeds because it doesn't take itself too seriously and offers good characters and fun plots...but few others have managed to achieve this (with "Legends of Tomorrow" being the most recent bomb).

So with all of this in mind, I am sure that I'm not the only person checking out "Timeless" with a wary interest. The premise is a familiar one: bad guy wants to change the past, good guys have to go back and time and stop him.  As with most time travel stories, the question is "can we/should we change history?"

However, "Timeless" immediately sets itself apart from the crowd by offering a good trifecta from the start: engaging characters, a fresh take on the plot trope, and a sincere affection for History.

A sinister man, Garcia Flynn, steals a time machine and attempts to change history. Historian Lucy, Army Guy Wyatt, and Techie Rufus are tasked with stopping him to the best of their ability. Flynn's motives are shrouded in mystery...and may not be as nefarious as they first appear. Or are they? Only time will tell...

A good plot and solid characters carry most shows, but for time travel stories to work, a good knowledge and conveyance of history is also required, and here is where the difficulty often pops up. To show history changing, you have to make sure your audience already knows what history is supposed to be. "Timeless" does this well, starting each episode with a brief and engaging look at the history as we know it. Then our time travelers pop in, and we see things change. You can watch this show without any knowledge of history at all, but there are also plenty of fascinating tidbits and factoids for history buffs. My husband is a history major and I'm a history geek, so we have a bit of a leg up in guessing some things, but we still learned some fascinating new stuff from the show.

The show has set up some solid time travel mechanics that we are pretty pleased with. And I say this as someone whose husband affectionately labels as a "Time Travel Snob." It remains to be seen whether they stick to these mechanics, as most long term time travel stories find it difficult to stick within the confines, but if they do carry through, this promises to be one fantastic show.

I held off on reviewing this one right away because I wanted to see if things got better or worse after the pilot. To the delight of both myself and my husband, the second episode (The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln) solidly topped the first episode. Wild theorizing has ensued in the Hajek household, and we can't wait for next week to see where this show goes next!

And yes, future reviews on this show will hopefully be forthcoming, with all of those wild theories as they evolve from one week to the next!

Looking for more good shows to watch? Check out my TV and Movie Review page, or the Geek Portal!


Melanie said...

I've been meaning to check out This is Us but haven't yet. I'm also a history major so Timeless sounds interesting.

Hannah said...

That's part of the reason I love iTunes: most pilots to shows are free! My family and I really enjoyed Timeless and am looking forward to to rest of the season.
I am curious: why did you call Legends of Tomorrow a "bomb"? It's quite the fun show with a good following.
Haven't tried This Is Us, but it does sound interesting.

Elizabeth Amy Hajek said...

Actually, I think you're the first person I've heard speak well of "Legends of Tomorrow"! The general consensus in what I've read (which I agree with) is that basically the only good parts were when Captain Cold and the White Canary were on screen together. My husband and I gave it a try, but we just found it a hot mess of implausible plots (we felt the time travel was handled very poorly), weak characters (great potential, but disappointing execution) and overall poor writing. Which was too bad because I was excited by the set-up, but found the results just too difficult to watch.

To be fair, it's true that plenty of people have hated the last two seasons of "Arrow" and I've kept on watching THAT (although I do agree that it's been going downhill). I guess the difference is that Arrow started out really strong, so I know the potential it can reach and am willing to give it a long chance to find its feet again. LoT started out really low and did not give us enough incentive to keep following. I just didn't care enough about any of the characters, and too many of them were annoying me.

Oh well. "The Flash" remains a happy place... in terms of good TV, not necessarily sunshine and roses...

Hannah said...

How far did you get? It floundered a bit at the beginning, but really picked up steam towards the latter part of the season. It's not what i'd call a great show (it is no Battlestar Galactica) but it's pretty least for my tastes, Have you watched Supergirl? That's a really fun, light-hearted show!

Elizabeth Amy Hajek said...

Hannah - I think we watched 4 or 5 episodes? In addition to getting bored with it, we also felt God telling us that it wasn't a good show for us (personally) to be watching, so that's another reason why we never gave it another try.

I need to give Supergirl another try. I couldn't make it past the third episode because I didn't like either of the two guys. My sister says it gets better and everyone else speaks highly of it, so I know I need to give it another try.