March 5, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere TV Review: “Time After Time”


TIME AFTER TIME:  Sunday 9PM on ABC – If Nothing Else Is On…

If H.G. Wells really did travel from 1893 to the present day, one of the things that would probably horrify him is the fact that all creative endeavors are now viewed merely as “IP,” a play-doh-like building material used to create newer, bigger corporate franchises.  And for every Fargo or Bates Motel that respects its source and seeks to enlarge upon it, there are many more dumbed-down extensions like this season’s Training Day and now TIME AFTER TIME, a sad coda to the marvelous 1979 movie.

The original film wasn’t even a particularly big hit, but series creator Kevin Williamson has dug into it anyway, mostly leveling the charm and insight of Nicholas Meyer’s work.  The opening hour of the 2-hour pilot is so close to the original that Meyer (and story writers Karl Alexander and Steve Hayes) get the screen credit, and while severely truncated and strip-mined of its nuances, the basic concept is still an ingenious one.  It gives us an H.G. Wells (Freddie Stroma in the Malcolm McDowell role) who has actually invented a working time machine, only to have it stolen away by Dr. John Stevenson (Josh Bowman in place of David Warner) in his escape from police who are about to arrest him as Jack the Ripper.  Luckily, Wells had rigged the time machine so that it would always return to its departure date unless a particular key had been inserted in the machinery (this McGuffin never made much sense), and since Wells had the key, he was able to follow Stevenson to the present, which of course is now not 1979 San Francisco but 2017, relocated to New York.  Once there, Wells runs headlong into the shock of the future, both pleasant (the wonders of technology) and ugly (a world that’s far from the utopia he’d once predicted).  He also finds love, this time with museum Assistant Curator Jane Walker (Genesis Rodriguez) instead of bank employee Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen, in her 2d screen role), although both characters are essentially the same.

That first stretch of the pilot still works, more or less, although none of the actors is able to touch what the work of his or her predecessor made memorable, and the characters are considerably less intelligent and witty than they were before.  The second hour, written by Williamson, is much worse.  The movie was wonderfully self-contained, with a fully satisfying conclusion, but now of course it needs to be a ongoing story.  So Jack the Ripper continues to be on the loose in NY, and Williamson has added a pair of unpromising complicating strands to the story, one involving billionaire Vanessa Anders (Nicole Ari Parker) who is purportedly Wells’s great-great-granddaughter but clearly has something to hide, and another with a mysterious figure who has a Carrie Mathison board in his apartment of marked-up news stories and photos about Wells.

Very little of this new material is engaging, and the basic set-up of the Ripper always remaining one step ahead of our heroes is painfully reminiscent of another Williamson series that mixed sadism with literary pretentions, the not-remotely-missed The Following.  (The pilot is directed by Following veteran Marcos Siega, who competently handles the action but provides little finesse.)  That show at least had Kevin Bacon to give it some weight, while Stroma is isn’t nearly as magnetic, and is given less clever time-travel material than Ichabod Crane had in the early seasons of Sleepy Hollow.  He and Bowman are the objects of who’s-the-hunkier-one dialogue in the pilot and honestly don’t deserve much more than that.  Rodriguez, meanwhile, tries to make Jane seem quirkier than the script really provides.

ABC has had a terrible time with its dramas this season, and Time After TIme won’t change that.  It’s not even at the top of the season’s time travel shows.  At one point, Wells explains the potential perils of trying to change the past, but a trip to fix (or delete) this series might be worth the risk.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."