NBC offers viewers a trio of sci-fi shows every Monday, beginning with the action comedy Chuck, followed by the acclaimed Heroes, and the highly-anticipated new series Journeyman.
The premise, which seems to mirror Audrey Niffeneggerís best-selling book The Time Travelerís Wife, sounded promising Ė newspaper reporter Dan Vasser (Kevin McKidd) takes periodic detours through the time and space continuum. Dan discovers that the purpose of his quantum leaps into the past is to change the course of a strangerís fate. His marriage to wife Katie (played by Gretchen Egolf) teeters on the brink as he tries to explain his vanishing act, which also happens to include the mysterious appearance of his dead ex-fiancee, Livia. With all the elements of an interesting drama in place, thereís no way Journeyman can miss, right? After only two episodes, Iím not so sure.
Journeyman seems to be afflicted by the superstition that bad things happen in threes. At its most basic level, it threatens to become formulaic before its time. With a rich backstory to hold up the first season, the series jumps straight into this pattern:
Man goes to work.
Man walks through revolving door.
Man reads news headlines to discover into what past year he has traveled.
Man changes strangerís destiny.
Man returns to present time.
Man goes home and tries to make amends with angry wife.
Sure, weíre thrown the proverbial bone now and then with little surprises that leave us wanting more, such as Liviaís parallel experiences and the appearance of Danís brother in an on-foot police chase through San Francisco, but I fear it wonít be enough to keep viewers tuning in week after week.
Because of the formula, Journeyman faces its second problem. As Dan travels back in time, he is faced with having to adapt to the social changes that have taken place. At first glance, the prevalence of big 80s hair to the tune of the Psychedelic Furs is amusing. By the second episode, it begins to feel too contrived. Common clichťs from the past practically slap viewers in the face. Giant cell phones, current twenty-dollar bills mistaken as counterfeit, a boy on an airplane playing with a toy gun in a smoky haze while hippies wander the aisles. Thereís something to be said for subtlety.
And I donít know about you, but all that fancy camerawork that The Kids These Days seem to enjoy makes me nauseous. The shaky camerawork and unusual angles, while artistic, donít contribute to my viewing pleasure.
Before I sound like a total curmudgeon and start screaming at the neighborhood kids to get off my lawn, Iíll offer up some kudos. Kevin McKidd is wonderful in the title role. Suspending disbelief in science fiction is no simple feat, but McKidd manages to pull it off with finesse. The creators and writers have managed to create interesting stories for the secondary characters whose lives Dan must change Ė a psychologically unstable and disgruntled man whose desperation has fatal consequences, and an artist, so generous of heart that she is willing to share a life-saving gift with the selfish father who never knew she existed.
Iím not giving up on Journeyman quite yet. Thereís enough substance at its core to keep me hanging on, at least for a few more weeks. Iím keeping the faith that it will be worth my time. Unlike Dan, I canít go back and change history.