“Timeless” A New Television Show That Will Work Your Mind

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If it’s fall, then it is time for the new programs to hit the television screen from not only the traditional networks but also cable and streaming services. Most of the time the programs presented – especially by the traditional network outlets – are simply retreads of past programs that do little to engage the audience or test their thinking capabilities. But there are some programs that have come out that might be worth checking out. We’ll take a look at a few of them over the next couple of weeks, but let’s start with the best of the lot.

NBC has been the purveyor of some excellent programs over the past few years. It’s been three years since The Blacklist premiered on the Peacock Channel and, just last year, NBC put on another fine action-drama with Blindspot. They may have topped themselves, however, with their most recent entry, Timeless.

Timeless is the story of Lucy Preston (actor Abigail Spencer), a college professor with an ailing, bedridden mother and her stay at home sister, Amy, who takes care of her while Lucy attempts to gain tenure and follow in her mother’s footsteps. Things take a turn, however, when the college she teaches at (and where her mother was quite famous) refuses to grant her tenure, leaving her in a difficult spot. That changes when Homeland Security calls Lucy in for a project.

Coming into a warehouse, Lucy is dumbfounded to meet Connor Mason (Paterson Joseph), a brilliant scientist who has been working on undisclosed “experiments” for the government. According to Homeland Security agent Denise Christopher (Sakina Jaffrey), one of Mason’s projects was a time machine that, after a raid by terrorists led by Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic, who has been making an excellent living playing bad guys of late…or is he…well, not yet), has been stolen. Flynn and his cohorts have taken the time machine back to May 6, 1937.

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As a historian, Lucy knows the significance of the date. It is the day the Hindenburg exploded upon landing in Lakehurst, NJ, but she still doesn’t understand why she’s there to help Mason and the government. Mason explains that, with her knowledge and background in history, she is the best person to send to make sure that history doesn’t change, lest something happens and the “future” from 1937 is altered. Mason explains that there is a creaky prototype of the “Mothership” (the time capsule stolen by Flynn), but it only holds three riders; going along with Lucy on the trip are Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter), a military man (probably Navy Seal from his apparent expertise) who has recently lost his wife and will provide the muscle for the team, and Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett), a computer wizard and engineer on the creation of the “Mothership” who can handle the prototype and get it to and from whatever period of time they have to enter and return.

Upon reaching the flight line where the Hindenburg is landing, the threesome notice that the ground crew (the men catching the lines dropped by the dirigible to anchor the ship) are keeping the ropes off the ground, long thought to have been a theory as the cause for the grounding of the ship and the subsequent spark that set off the hydrogen gas in the blimp. The trio also see Flynn among the ground crew (having told them to keep the lines off the ground) and make chase, but are unable to catch him. Thus they have failed in their mission – keeping history the way it is known – and now must figure out why Flynn wanted to change it.

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Doing some research, Lucy learns that many noteworthy people – bankers, politicians, royalty and the elite – will be on the return flight of the Hindenburg to attend the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in England (which actually was supposed to happen in “our” history) and that Flynn is potentially looking to destroy the ship at that time to have the maximum impact on the future. Meanwhile, Wyatt hooks up with a reporter who reminds him of his deceased wife (and who was supposed to be one of the people killed on the ground in the original history of the crash), who doesn’t quite believe their story but does help them on their trek.

Our set of adventurers eventually end up in jail after killing one of Flynn’s associates (and finding a detonator in his pocket) and, in an attempt to escape to stop Flynn from destroying the Hindenburg, Rufus – who had previously stated to Mason that he didn’t want to go on the mission because as a black man “there isn’t a time in history that was good for me” – causes enough of a ruckus that the police come in, billy clubs brandished, ready to beat him senseless. This gives Wyatt enough time to pick the lock and, with Rufus’ help, immobilize the guards to stop Flynn.

The threesome board the Hindenburg and find the bomb, but are unable to stop it from exploding. They do, however, save everyone on board after forcibly taking over the ship and making it land, thus giving the passengers the quickest way off. During the resulting hubbub, Lucy comes face-to-face with Flynn and, to be honest, this is where it gets a bit interesting.

Flynn tells Lucy that he is looking to preserve history for the better, not destroy it, and tells her to ask Christopher about a certain group known only as “Rittenhouse.” He also shows her a diary that, to Lucy’s horror, is in her handwriting and apparently talks about the trips that are in the future. Wyatt comes upon them and tries to shoot Flynn, but he returns fire and misses Wyatt but hits the female reporter behind Wyatt after he jumps out of the way and kills her. With the Hindenburg now destroyed, the adventurers return to present time not knowing what they’ll find when they get there.

At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much wrong other than some altering affected by the crew’s forcible crash landing of the blimp. The team has learned that Flynn is there to alter U. S. history but, even though the history of the Hindenburg has been slightly altered and the passengers who were killed in the original history survived (while none perished in the new historical trek), there doesn’t appear to be much out of line. Christopher sends the team home, at which point the show takes another stunning turn for one of the characters.

Lucy returns home and calls out for her sister but, to her utter amazement, her mother calls for her and comes out of the kitchen. A flabbergasted Lucy breaks down in tears at the sight of her mother in vigorous health (remember, she departed with her mother bedridden), but she still wants to know where Amy is. Her mother doesn’t know what or who she’s talking about and, to Lucy’s horror, she picks up a photo that used to feature the three Preston women that now just features Lucy and her mother. As the pilot ends, Lucy is called back by Christopher as Flynn has taken off to another point in history in the “Mothership.”

The second episode – which dealt with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln – is pretty much along the same lines, but a couple more twists are tossed in. Rufus and Mason now seem to be in cahoots as Mason has Rufus recording all the interactions between him, Wyatt and Lucy while they are on their missions, with those recordings going to the shadowy group that Flynn talked about with Lucy after the Hindenburg crash. Second, upon returning from the Lincoln mission, Lucy learns that her father in her original history met and married one of the survivors of the Hindenburg disaster and that is the reason why Amy doesn’t exist. This also leads Lucy to wonder about her OWN background (logically) and, lacking an answer on that front and returning home, finds another change in her history as her mother is throwing a party for her wedding engagement (imagine if you walked in and your mother was doing THAT for you!).

Personally, I’ve always held a fascination with alternative history (if you’ll remember, I was also big on The Man in the High Castle last year) and this show definitely taps into that vein. It goes back to the conundrum about a variation of the Grandfather Paradox known as the Hitler Paradox – if you could go back in history and kill Hitler before he begins World War II, would you do it? The problem with these types of questions – and something that is done well in Timeless (albeit only to Lucy right now – it is supposed to also affect Wyatt and Rufus at some point) – is that changing any point in past history would have an effect on what occurs in the future.

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Without Hitler and let’s just add in World War II also, would the United States have achieved all it did as a world superpower? Would there have been the Korean War, the attempts to stop the Russians and the Domino Theory? Maybe someone who died in WWII would go on to commit worse atrocities than Hitler? Would nuclear weapons have been developed? There’s plenty to think about there (and it does apply to everyone’s life – change one thing in your past and it would alter who you are today).

Timeless taps into this uncertainty and, while Lucy, Wyatt and Rufus are attempting to keep history as they know it correct, there are just enough things that they don’t or can’t prevent that it still has an impact on the present day world (Lucy’s sister disappearing, her mother healthy, etc.). What happens, for example, if they come back from a mission and Wyatt’s wife is suddenly alive? Does he quit? And what about Rufus? What is his purpose and why is he recording the crew?

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The possibilities are endless with this show. Future episodes are looking (and this is from my own knowledge of history and the titles of each episode) at the Manhattan Project, the siege of the Alamo and the Watergate burglary, but there is a wealth of situations that could be investigated. The characters are what keep you interested, critical for any drama, as you try to figure out if Lucy goes mad at some point from all the changes in her personal history, which in some way causes Flynn to start his criminal (hey, we’ve yet to figure out if it is criminal or not, remember) actions, can Wyatt overcome the loss of his wife and the mystery of Rufus (not to mention Morgan, Christopher and this mysterious organization).

Airing at 10PM on Mondays after The Voice, Timeless is a way to test your mind and expand your thinking while being entertained at the same time, making it a fresh show amidst the mindless banter out there (really, do we have to see Kevin James doing a new version of King of Queens? He really isn’t that funny to begin with!).

“The Man in the High Castle” Is Captivating Television

It has been some time since we took a look at some of the new offerings from the movie, television or music worlds and that is a good thing. First of all, I’m not going to waste your time telling you about something that is completely awful (I know I said Quantico wasn’t very good, but it hasn’t been canceled yet…that means some people must like it). If I am going to take the time to offer up something, 9 out of 10 times it is going to be worth checking out (or at least I think so). That is what we have when we look at a new offering that has just been released.

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There is a completely new world out there when it comes to the streaming services. The days of when these outlets simply provided a way to catch the latest movies or watch an old show (or a new one) are causing rapid changes in what they offer. Part of their attractiveness is that they can be watched over virtually any device. In the beginning it was just computers, then the outlets branched into tablets, cellphones and video game devices. Now, the HDTVs that come out (with the spanking new 4K technology and “smart” TV capabilities) have one or more of these streaming outlets pre-programmed on them.

Maybe it is because of the above that the streaming outlets made the moves they did. Such outlets as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu Plus have decided to swan-dive into the deep end of the pool and produce their own shows rather than just offer the other networks’ material (and, in most cases, pay out the ass for the programming). Since I wasn’t around for the start of House of Cards or even Orange is the New Black, I am trying to find something that I can get into that is new to many (and can take over while I wait for the spring session of Blindspot and the second season of Mr. Robot to start) and it appears that Amazon has the next big thing.

Released on November 20, The Man in the High Castle is a ten-episode series that was foisted on the public all at once, meaning you can take it in the traditional episodic doses or can fully immerse yourself in it through a “binge.” This method of “broadcasting” (hey, it’s the only term I can think of that applies) has its pros and cons; it does allow you to blast through it in one big marathon but, if you take it one or two episodes at a time, you might forget that you are watching it and not go back to the series (confession:  I DVRed The Player, meaning to watch it but never did. It was canceled two episodes into its run). With High Castle, I sincerely doubt that someone is going to forget they have it in the library.

The series is based on the book of the same name written by one of the great minds of U. S. literature, Philip K. Dick. Dick, who wrote the science fiction classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? that eventually became the basis for the classic 1982 film Blade Runner (one of my personal favorites), this time steps into the alternative history genre and has the same impact there that he had with science fiction. The person who brought High Castle to the air, Frank Spotnitz (best known for his work on The X-Files), also deserves kudos for producing an excellent product.

The year is 1962, ten years removed from “V-A Day,” or the day that Nazi Germany and the forces of Imperial Japan defeated the United States in World War II. As a part of the peace, the Nazis take over the Eastern part of the United States virtually all the way to the Rocky Mountains, renaming it the Greater Nazi Reich; the Japanese, for their efforts, take over from the West Coast to the Rockies with their Japanese Pacific States. Between the two, running the ridges of the Rockies, is a Neutral Zone to separate the Nazis and the Japanese that has become an area to provide living space for segments of society (minorities, homosexuals and other “deviants”) that would otherwise be persecuted or even killed for who or what they are.

It is a tenuous peace between the two international powers, however. An aging Adolf Hitler is in failing health and, as Himmler and Goebbels jockey for position to take over from him, the Japanese grow concerned that Hitler’s death would result in warfare that would force them out of the former United States. Since the end of WWII, Germany has become a technological powerhouse, developing the hydrogen bomb and planes that fly from New York to San Francisco in two hours, while Japan has languished in its imperial peace. This is an important part of the program, but it isn’t the only plotline to pay attention to as the show continues.

The show opens up with a young man, Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), visiting a factory in New York City on the seemingly innocent premise of looking for a job. He strolls through a totalitarian Times Square replete with the Nazi swastika burnished on video boards and flags and, upon reaching the factory, finds the manager. As we sit in on their meeting, we discover it isn’t for a job in the factory; Joe is being hired to drive a truck across the Greater Nazi Reich to Canon City, a town in the Neutral Zone, for The Resistance, a rebel alliance looking to oust the Nazis from the country.

After demonstrating his will to do the job, Joe gets the keys from the manager just as Nazi troops raid the factory. While the bullets fly, Joe is able to get away from the factory intact, but everyone else is not so lucky. The Nazis summarily execute everyone who was in the factory save for the manager, who is taken into custody and, as we find out through the first episode, tortured mercilessly.

As Joe is doing this, we go to San Francisco where another part of the story is developing. Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos), who has assimilated nicely into a post-war Japanese society (taking aikido lessons and embracing their medicinal and cultural offerings), is stunned to meet up with her half-sister who tells her she has a great new job. Later in the evening, Juliana and her sister meet again under much more dire circumstances; Juliana’s sister hands her a package and cryptically tells her to take care of it before running away. As Juliana hides in the shadows, Japanese soldiers execute her sister in the street.

Running home, a perplexed Juliana (why would soldiers kill her sister) looks in the bag her sister gave to her. In the bag is a film entitled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy and, after viewing the reel, Juliana discovers it is an alternate reality film based on what happened if the Allies had instead won World War II (you with me so far?). Spurred to action by watching the film and the death of her sister, Juliana leaves her boyfriend (Rupert Evans) who hides that he is part Jewish, a crime punishable by death even in the Japanese Pacific States, and heads for Canon City with a ticket procured for her sister to make the trip.

The remainder of the first episode brings our protagonists to Canon City. Blake has what might be called an uneventful run but discovers that, out on the Great Plains, hospitals are crematoriums for the sickly and elderly instead of healing (remember, that’s Nazi Country). Juliana has her own issues, with a female passenger on the bus she is taking to Canon City mysteriously stealing her belongings but not the movie reels. The first episode ends with a twist that I honestly didn’t see coming and, after seeing it, nearly made me rocket into the second episode rather than allowing the first one to sink in fully.

Beyond the point that we have several different plotlines intersecting in this one hour – the impending death of Hitler and the potential for war between the Nazi and Japanese, the trips of both Blake and Crain to Canon City to do what isn’t exactly known and the film (is it possible it’s true?) and its purpose – there is an attention to detail in creating the false reality of “this” divided U. S. nation that is remarkable. There are far too many things to point out that helped to convey the dread and dismay of the conditions of living in such a situation and, with the supporting cast, all viewpoints are offered (Crain’s mother hates the Japanese for killing her husband; Blake meets a police officer who was in the U. S. military but now accepts his fate with the Nazis). It potentially indicates that there are some deeper analogies that we might see in the future of the program.

The Man in the High Castle also showed me that there is a new reality to the future of television. Unrestrained by broadcast guidelines or traditional “broadcasting times,” these shows being put out by the streaming networks are quality works that should demand a great deal more attention from the viewing public. If every program was of the high quality that High Castle is, then there would be a greater impetus to “cut the cord” from normal cable and network broadcasting, which have become staid with their product.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out these streaming channels, you’re missing out on what could be a bountiful arena of choices for your viewing pleasure. You’re definitely missing out on one of the best programs of the year with The Man in the High Castle; I’d suggest climbing onboard the wagon soon for both the show and for the streaming channels.