Wednesday, October 03, 2007

TV REVIEW: Journeyman

I finally got around to watching the pilot of the NBC time-travel series, Journeyman and I have to say that it didn't suck. In fact, despite some problems here and there in terms of the nuts-and-bolts of time-hopping, it's the best of the three new network genre series I've watched this season (the other two being the dead-on-arrival Bionic Woman and the less-than-inspiring Moonlight). Still haven't watched Reaper. That's next, I guess.

Anyway, back to Journeyman. Created by Kevin Falls, this is the sci-fi story of a character named Dan Vassar (Rome's Lucius Vorenus, Kevin McKidd), a married reporter who works at the San Francisco Register and who boasts the network mandated cute kid (little Zack), gorgeous wife, Katie (Gretchen Egolf) and stunningly-perfect Victorian house on a hill. Vassar's brother, Jack (Reed Diamond) is a cop who once dated Dan's wife. Meanwhile, Dan still pines for an old girlfriend, Livia Beale (Day Break's Moon Bloodgood); the one that got away.

With very little preamble or fanfare, Dan suddenly begins to travel through time, taking a quantum leap of sorts back to the Reagan era of 1987. We know he's time-traveled because suddenly Dan's walking around in a world of oversized shoulder-pads, and Bryant Gumbel reports on the Today Show that the Robert Bork Supreme C
ourt confirmation hearings are underway. During his sojourn, Vassar ends up saving a man named Neal Gaines from committing suicide, and then returns to the present (though the audience doesn't get to see how he does so...) and his co-workers, brother and wife Katie all think he's nuts. In fact, they think he's on drugs and stage an intervention for him.

Before long, Dan is hopping back in time regularly, and every journey seems intent on putting him right into the path of the same person: Neal Gaines. During one venture, Dan convinces Neal's girlfriend not to have an abortion. On his final journey, Dan provides the linchpin event leading up to Neal's death (in 1997...) just as the unhappy Neil was about to kill his wife and child. Dan comes to realize he has been traveling through time not for Neal, but for Neal's son, who would one day grow up to become a doctor...and a person who would save the life of half-a-dozen school kids following a bus accident. Complicating matters for Dan, he encounters his old girlfriend Livia during his frequent time tunnelings, but not just the Livia of the past. Nope: it turns out Vassar's ex-girlfriend is time traveling too. She instructs him not to mess anything up while he's in the past; only pay heed to his instincts. This aspect of the plot is clearly the most tantalizing. Why is Livia time-traveling? Did she pick Dan to travel too? Who is behind all this?

Although it is certainly easy to make jokes about Quantum Leap and Time Tunnel, Journeyman so far seems to most closely resemble a different sort of time travel series: the Eliza Dushku venture from a few years back, Tru Calling. On Tru, as you might or might not recall, our heroine (Dushku) could do a day over and over again and help somebody in dire need of assistance and who was destined to die on that very day. In the process of helping others, however, Tru's actions had a ripple effect on the present, not the least of which occurred in her own personal and professional life. That template very much seems to be the premise here: with Dan making a mess of the present to save lives in the past. Also, Tru had to worry about another day traveler (a villainous sort played by Jason Priestley); and we still don't know whether time-traveler Livia is here a friend or a foe.

Journeyman posits a most inconvenient sort of time travel. Apparently past and present just keep rolling along, no matter what. Which means that Dan suddenly gets scooped out of his car (while driving...) into the past of 1997. In the present, his car hits a pole and two other vehicles, but he's not driving - he's not even around! (He should have a bumper sticker: Gone Time Travelin'). Someone should also make a law against time travelers holding valid driver's licenses, I guess.

Based on this pilot, the primary strength of Journeyman is neither the warmed-over time travel premise, nor the particular details of those temporal excursions. Instead, Kevin McKidd holds the screen well as the troubled and confused lead, and he's given a genuine emotional crisis to deal with. Consider that on most TV shows of this nature, a man with a wife and child would be traveling back in time and trying desperately to get back to them, his beloved family. Well here, that married man still holds a candle for his long lost love, but if he changes anything about his romantic history, he risks losing the son, Zack, he has in the present of 2007. Talk about a difficult path. Would you risk losing your child for the one true love of your life? Which would you pick? I must admit, I haven't seen this particular dilemma played out on TV that frequently, and as long as Journeyman doesn't drop the notion, and doesn't make this an obvious, cheap or easy choice for Dan, the character fireworks might offer enough of a reason to return. Already, ratings are low, so Journeyman may not have much of a future.

But again, it's refreshing to watch a new sci-fi series that is neither loaded with familiar cliches (Moonlight) nor a re-imagination posing as a bad-ass, tough-talking CGI MoFo (Bionic Woman) while recycling the worst elements of the far-superior Dark Angel. Bottom line: I'll take this journey on NBC at least for a couple of episodes to see how things develop.


  1. Anonymous10:47 AM

    I love Kevin McKidd but, really, shouldn't this have starred Steve Perry? He is the original Journey Man!

  2. Anonymous12:43 PM

    A time-travel show I recommend is TIMECOP (9 episodes) starring Ted King, based on the hit movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Hopefully, Universal will release a DVD set of the series one of these days. BTW--today--October 3, 2007 is the 25th anniversary of the initial broadcast of VOYAGERS! (available on DVD).

  3. Anonymous2:43 PM

    Where is the DVD set of Seven Days? No other time travel show even compares!