Time travel on TV doesn’t always have to be as epic as the bodice-ripping adventures of “Outlander,” or as sci-fi bizarre as an episode of “Doctor Who.”
“Me, Myself & I” is a comedy drama that chronicles the life of Alex Riley at 14 (Jack Dylan Grazer), at 40 (Bobby Moynihan) and at 65 (John Larroquette) by hopscotching through time.
The series, which premieres Monday on CBS, journeys seamlessly among decades — 1991, the present and 2042 — cleverly piecing together Alex’s life like a puzzle, event by event, chronological order be damned.
If it sounds like a confusing mess, it’s not, at least in the pilot episode (all that was provided for review). The story builds upon itself, event atop event, like building blocks. The past informs the future at a fast clip, but here, you may see the future first (if only we all had that advantage in life).
Recurring characters throughout Alex’s life help with consistency, as does the running theme of the series: His story isn’t defined by what happens to him, but rather how he deals with it. When, as a teen, he’s rejected by the girl of his dreams, we see him testing his own power of denial by simply pretending she’s not there.
Then, as a senior, when he suffers a heart attack, Alex pivots from that sense of denial that made him feel he was invincible and toward the reality that life is short. He takes the opportunity to retire and return to what he loves — inventing.
Overall, however, Alex hardly has the life of Riley.
In the pilot episode, we learn that Alex was an only child who moved from Chicago (where he worships Michael Jordan) to Los Angeles (where he despises the Lakers) when his mother remarried.
The nerdy, aspiring inventor had to learn to live with his new stepbrother, Justin (Christopher Paul Richards), who is also 14, loves the Lakers and is obsessed with the middle-school social scene.
Alex at 40 catches his wife cheating, his marriage implodes and his aspirations as an inventor collapse. He ends up living in his friend Darryl’s (Jaleel White) two-car garage.
Still, he’s determined to invent the next big thing that will change the world — and make him a fortune. The future, however, appears bleak.
When Darryl asks Alex how it’s going, he answers, “terrible.”
Darryl points to his stack of blueprints: “What is that?”
“A wheel,” answers Alex. “I’m trying to reinvent it.”
But hop over to 2042, and he’s a wealthy entrepreneur, on the verge of retirement. What happened? How did he get there? Stay tuned and you may find out. Mysteries like these are the bait that keep viewers hooked.
“Me, Myself & I” was created and co-written by Dan Kopleman (“Malcolm in the Middle”) and is shot via a single-camera set-up. It approaches family life in a fashion similar to that older Bryan Cranston family series: with warmth, a little cynicism and a great sense of humor.
Moynihan, who rose to prominence on “Saturday Night Live,” anchors the show, largely because of his knack for playing the tragically average guy with humor and compassion.
The young Riley isn’t as compelling, at least in the pilot episode, as his stepbrother (Richards). Scenes of Alex’s early life also lean a little more heavily on the people around him — such as his stepfather, Ron (Brian Unger).
Larroquette makes the senior Alex just as likable, and almost as funny, as Monihayn’s Alex. A particularly touching scene is when he rediscovers his middle-school crush Nori (Sharon Lawrence) some 50 years later at a diner.
Time travel isn’t the easiest way to sell a comedy drama, but in this case, “Me, Myself & I” has time on its side.
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‘Me, Myself & I’
When: 9:30 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)