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Pilot Inspektor: NBC's "Journeyman"

What is it exactly that sparks our imagination when it comes to time travel? Is the notion of traveling beyond our lifetimes to catch a glimpse of a future world, unfettered by the bonds of our mortality? Or is the sense that we all would love a chance to travel backwards in time and get a shot and fixing the wrongs in our own lives?

In NBC's new fall series, Journeyman, Dan Vassar (Rome's Kevin McKidd) gets an opportunity to do the latter when he finds himself unwittingly traveling back in time to points within his own life. It's the first time travel story on television that I can think of that doesn't use a time machine (thank god!); instead the wherefores and hows of Dan's ability are left a mystery... for now, anyway.

Created by Kevin Falls (The West Wing), Journeyman deftly manages to combine several different genres--sci fi, relationship drama, action, romance--into one slickly produced package that is beautifully directed by Alex Graves (The Nine). The effect is more akin to The Time Traveler's Wife than Quantum Leap, presenting us with a series that can be at the same time procedural and loosely serialized, as Dan is forced, each week, to prevent/cause some change in the past and figuring out the limitations and causes behind his time traveling ability.

This being a drama rather than a wish-fulfillment fantasy, Dan's ability is more of a curse than a blessing and, as a lead character, Dan is a wholly flawed hero (the very best kind, one could argue); he's married to a beautiful woman, Katie (Gretchen Egolf), with whom he has an adorable moppet of a son, but their marriage is tested by several factors, including the fact that Dan is a recovering gambling addict who drove his relationship to the brink of failure. He's a brilliant reporter, but his job is in jeopardy already when he begins to have unexplained absences... and time-travels while behind the wheel of a car, resulting in a spectacular auto collision. Oh, and did I mention that his wife Katie was once the girlfriend of Dan's estranged police officer brother Jack (Reed Diamond)?

There's also the ghost of Dan's dead fiancee, the beautiful Livia (Moon Bloodgood), haunting the proceedings. Livia died years before in a mysterious plane crash, putting Dan right into the orbit of his bro's girl Katie, who is seen in the past giving Dan the once-over. We're not told what exactly led Katie to leave Jack for Dan, but it's clear that her decision is one factor in the distance between the two brothers.

In the past, Dan saves the life of Neal Gaines (Christopher Warren), a man attempting to kill himself; not unsurprisingly this has major consequences in the present day and Dan is forced to clean up the mess he created... while also attempting to save his marriage in a dramatic and romantic reveal after Katie begins to believe that, rather than time traveling as Dan claims to be doing, he has turned to drugs. If you've seen the teaser trailer, you know exactly the moment I'm talking about, but rather than spoil it for everyone else, I'll be deliberately vague and just say that it involves Katie's wedding ring, a toolbox, and a certain patio.

Of course, this is a weekly drama, so there's never a happy ending at the end of the first hour. In the past, Dan is lead into temptation by a run-in with Livia; if he sleeps with her in the past, is he really cheating on Katie? (Short answer: yes.) But it underscores the notion that he's still, after all of these years, in love with his dead fiancee. And with the power to travel through time, couldn't Dan alter the past and save her life? The pilot episode doesn't answer this question though it does raise several others with a jaw-dropping reveal late in the game. As for what that is, you'll have to watch the series this fall. (I can't spoil everything now, can I?)

Besides for the lush visuals (check the scene with the falling bits of calendar) and taut plot, Journeyman also sports a fantastic cast. Gretchen Egolf (Roswell, Martial Law) is wholly believable as a suspicious but loving wife, going out of her skull trying to figure out what's going on with her husband and whether she wants to hold onto him. Moon Bloodgood is perfectly cast as the mysterious Livia; you can see why, years after her death, she has still managed to infect Dan's thoughts and dreams. As Dan Vassar, Kevin McKidd is absolutely magnetic in this role, presenting Dan as a man of constant inner conflict, propelled by a reporter's need to seek the answers to all of life's mysteries. McKidd presents Dan as a wounded man, humbled by his circumstances, attempting to atone for his past and unable to fix his present life. In the hands of a lesser actor, Journeyman could have crumbled under the audience's disbelief at Dan's time traveling abilities; instead McKidd grounds the series with a palpable gravitas. You do believe that this guy's guy can really travel through time and that he has as difficult a time wrapping his brain around that as the audience at home.

NBC has given Journeyman an amazing sign of confidence by granting it the plum post-Heroes timeslot on Mondays at 10 pm. It's a testament to the depth of this series, the creativity of its creators, and the strength of McKidd's leadership that the network would get so fully behind a high concept like this one.

If Journeyman proves as thought-provoking and thoughtful as the pilot episode indicated (as well as lure in both male and female audiences), the Peacock may have finally found a promising companion for its sole break-out drama hit. Fingers crossed.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Ghost Whisperer (CBS); 1 vs. 100 (NBC); WWE Friday Night SmackDown (CW; 8-10 pm); Kyle XY (ABC); Bones (FOX)

9 pm: Close to Home (CBS); Las Vegas (NBC); National Bingo Night (ABC); Standoff (FOX)

10 pm: NUMB3RS (CBS); Law & Order: Criminal Intent (NBC); 20/20 (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

9 pm: The Gil Mayo Mysteries on BBC America.

It's an all-new mystery series on BBC America starring Alistair McGowan (Bleak House) as Gil Mayo, a single dad and detective. On tonight's episode, Mayo and the team investigate a a murder in a residential care facility.

Comments

The CineManiac said…
This is one of the many pilots I can't wait to catch this fall, which really sucks because the one thing I don't need is more TV.
But I'm still looking forward to this, Pushing Daises, Reaper, and of course Bionic Woman.
eAi said…
Life on Mars (in the UK) doesn't use a time machine :)
Kevin McKidd is definitely the best thing about this show. It has some interesting twists and turns but without someone as strong as McKidd as a lead I think it would disintegrate. I'm hoping that they'll focus more on the interesting bits (like his dead fiancee) and fine tune the "problem of the week." The story of the guy he saves in the pilot was pretty lame. (The actor was pretty bad too.)

This show has potential but I'm definitely going to have to see more before I give it a thumbs up.
Anonymous said…
Did we see the same pilot?

In the pilot I saw, one of the biggest flaws, for me, was the lead actor's complete lack of charisma. I felt nothing for him, and spent the time wishing Reed Diamond was the lead (I loves me some Reed Diamond).

I didn't hate the pilot (as some in our office did), and was intrigued somewhat, but just not feeling it, for the most part. I worry about it becoming Touched by a Time Traveler Hack. If they finesse it, I might come back.

(And I completely agree w/danielle - the problem of the week in the pilot and the actor were lame)
Unknown said…
I liked Daybreak and Groundhog Day for similar reasons--no time machine, no explanation for the time travel. It requires a suspension of disbelief, but it also avoids having to hand-wave some explanation. And, really, in stories like these, the "how" is unnecessary.

Hopefully Tribune Media Services will rescind their decision to cut off their free listings feed on Sept 1, and I can add it (and other programs) to my list this fall. Otherwise, I'll have to wait and see if enough episodes are created for a DVD release.

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