Review: Time travel is all the rage in ‘Time After Time’ and ‘Making History’

H.G. Wells (Freddie Stroma) and his new 21st century friend Jane (Genesis Rodriguez) in Wells’ working time machine in the new ABC series “Time After Time.”
(Sarah Shatz / ABC)

Time, the final frontier! There has been a lot of traveling in it, monkeying with it on television of late: “Timeless,” “Legends of Tomorrow,” “Frequency,” “12 Monkeys,” “Doctor Who” of course, “Future-Worm!” (that one’s a cartoon). Sunday adds two more.

H.G. Wells, of course, is the man who popularized the time machine, in an 1895 novel called “The Time Machine.” Nicholas Meyer’s charming 1979 big-screen thriller “Time After Time” made Wells the inventor of an actual gadget, traveling to the present day in pursuit of Jack the Ripper. That film is now an ABC series, starring Freddie Stroma as Wells and Josh Bowman as the Ripper, here identified as Dr. John Stevenson, a member of Wells’ circle. When the police arrive at Wells’ house, on the very night the writer has shown his friends the temporal hot rod he’s built in the basement, Stevenson escapes in it, to 21st century Manhattan. A convenient return-to-base feature allows Wells to follow him.

The pilot episode largely follows the arc of the film, salting in new characters and details that will allow it to become a bigger, more complicated, open-ended story; a few key lines too, have jumped from big-screen to small. (“In our time, I was a freak,” says the Ripper, “today, I’m an amateur.”) Neither film nor series makes perfect sense — standard for such bountifully paradoxical tales — and apart from a few small servings of technobabble, there is no science in this fiction. The author of the “Time Machine” building one is a literary idea, and the specs of his invention, as arranged here, are conceived to produce purely dramatic results.

Walking out into a new world, Wells is confronted by drones, selfie sticks, hover boards, break dancers and skyscrapers. A cellphone will confuse him. He will ask “What is an Oprah?” And where he hoped, like Wells’ own original traveler, to find a socialist utopia, a world that had moved beyond war and inequality, he finds … us. A tear rolls down his cheek.

Making a series about a serial killer, as executive producer Kevin Williamson (“Scream,” “Dawson’s Creek”) did with the merciless “The Following,” requires a steady diet of stalking, abduction, more near or narrow escapes and murder. This has been, you’ll pardon the expression, done to death, and when Stevenson trawls a nightclub looking for a victim, it feels anything but fresh, and it’s suspenseful in the most mechanical way.

It’s the “Dawson’s Creek” Williamson who’s the more valuable here; the romance and the comedy are what keep the series buoyant. In this respect Génesis Rodríguez, as Jane, an assistant museum curator, incipient badass and Wells’ quickly developed love interest, is the show’s most valuable asset. Rodriguez keeps the show human and warm and brings out the best in Stroma, as Jane brings out the best in Wells.

Time travelers Adam Pally and Yassir Lester take a selfie in colonial Massachusetts in “Making History,” premiering Sunday on Fox.
Time travelers Adam Pally and Yassir Lester take a selfie in colonial Massachusetts in "Making History," premiering Sunday on Fox.
(Jennifer Clasen / Fox)

Then there is Fox’s “Making History,” created by Julius Sharpe (“The Grinder,” “Family Guy”), with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“The Lego Movie”) as executive producers, an exercise in silliness more in the “Bill & Ted"/"Time Traveling Bong” school of time travel stories.

Adam Pally — in what, on the basis of this and “The Mindy Project,” I would call “an Adam Pally role” — plays Daniel, a sweet and energetic idiot who possesses a time machine in the form of a large duffel bag. Feeling inferior in 2017, he has been traveling to Colonial Massachusetts, where he has been dating Paul Revere’s daughter Deborah (Leighton Meester, fierce, daffy, ahead of her time), a relationship whose ripple effect may have prevented the American Revolution. And so he enlists history teacher Chris (Yassir Lester), a little uptight and antagonistic, to help change things back. And, so, a time-traveling comedy trio is born.

It doesn’t strive to make sense; the rough dynamic of the main characters (each dumb and smart in his and her own way) is a constant; their relationships are only briefly subject to change. As history, it is on par with the adventures of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, sprinkled with facts without too much regard for where they fall. What matters is the reliable humor of modern characters trying to pass for old-fashioned ones, and the old-fashioned ones acting modern. (It’s the “Drunk History” effect.) I am an easy mark for this kind of stuff, I will admit, and I found myself happy watching “Making History” without feeling the need to make a case for its brilliance, depth or strength of satire.

‘Making History’

Where: Fox

When: 8:30 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-14-DLV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and violence)

‘Time After Time’

Where: ABC

When: 9 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-14-V (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with an advisory for violence)

Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd


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