The cancellation of Timeless last year caused massive internet outrage and a monsoon of tears that rivaled the response of this year’s cancellation bloodbath. In a move that had never been seen before on network TV, NBC reversed the cancellation within days of the announcement. This rare occurrence set a precedent for people to try to save their shows with social media meltdowns. (I’m def not judging. I
tweeted am tweeting to save it, too.)
For the sake of illustrating the magnitude of my love for Timeless, I used to watch all of my favorite shows live, including Supernatural, which I’ve been watching for 13 years—I would angst pretty hard when I missed live episodes of my fave shows. Now, I watch approximately two shows live: Timeless and Supergirl (I’m super busy, okay?).
Timeless has every element of a show you could possibly hope for. Time travel? Check. An evil government organization set on changing the course of history? Check. A cast of bright, talented actors who play dynamic and flawed characters? Check. Baller hair stylists, costume, and set designers? Check. Plot twists that you never saw coming? Double check.
Timeless revolves around a set of characters hand-picked by the government to lead a task force to stop a corrupt group of individuals, known as Rittenhouse, from changing history in their favor to fully take control of the U.S. What three people do you need for such a task force? A nerdy pilot (Rufus, played by Malcolm Barrett), a soldier (Wyatt, played by Matt Lanter), and a historian (Lucy, played by Abigail Spencer). Cue bad joke about three random people walking into a bar.
The Time Team, as fans lovingly call them, or more recently, clockblockers, after a season two reference, are tasked with going back in time with a rad, cylindrical time machine thing. The season one mission was to stop Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic), who had stolen one of the time ships, from changing the course of history. As the show progresses, more is unraveled about the power-hungry organization, Rittenhouse, that’s Hell-bent on warping history in their favor. Between a gripping episode about H. H. Holmes, the era of spurs and cowboy hats, the Women’s Rights Movement, and slavery, the show has traveled almost every decade you can think of with rich, compelling depictions of history that are thoroughly researched and depicted as accurately as is possible within the scope of the show.
One of my favorite modes of storytelling is melding the past, the future, and pop culture. Timeless throws its characters into the past, with pop culture references that no one in the past would know, like when Lucy introduced the team with, “This is Dr. Dre, I’m Nurse Jackie… We’re from General Hospital.” Or when Rufus does the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air rap in the ’40s when he’s posing as Langston Hughes (Hedy Lamar was not amused).
Timeless manages to completely absorb the audience into the past while still retaining a sense of modernity to which viewers can relate. The show doesn’t completely take place in the past, either, which allows it to flow nicely while raising the stakes of both the past and present. Not only does the Time Team have to worry about the ramifications for the past if Rittenhouse manages to derail the Women’s Rights Movement by killing Alice Paul, the very future they know in 2018 could completely change if they’re not successful in their missions. Several characters have felt this first hand when their loved ones were erased from history itself because of one small change in the past. The butterfly effect is real, y’all.
Everyone loves a good plot twist. As someone who watches way too much media, it’s become increasingly difficult to surprise me. I can see most plot twists coming from a mile away—Timeless is different. This show has jerked me around in every possible direction and I haven’t been this excited about where a show will take me since the early seasons of Prison Break, which is arguably my favorite show ever. Their plot twist success might be a result of similar premises in the way of evil corporations that have their claws in every facet of the government. Shows with such plots are just designed to be suspenseful and twisty in a way that works to keep the audience continually surprised and engaged. The underlying question of “OMG is this person actually a part of Rittenhouse,” just makes for good, suspenseful TV.
Speaking of good TV, hello, social commentary. Timeless has absolutely no chill and viewers love it. This season, especially, went above and beyond to depict meaningful characters from American history that helped change the country for the better. The season finale heavily featured Harriet Tubman and she was the most BAMF character the show has ever seen. I shouted, “you go girl,” at the screen more times than I’d like to admit when she continually threatened people trying to oppress her.
As Tubman’s birthday just passed on May 10, I noticed that a Facebook friend questioned why her birthday isn’t generally acknowledged or celebrated. It absolutely should be as she was one of the bravest and important figures in Civil War history and the finale was a great, timely nod to Tubman. There’s an incredibly powerful scene where she stands with her army of escaped slaves and with an American education system that generally glosses over the hard stuff, these stories are so important for families to see, whether they’re 50 or seven.
Timeless doesn’t rewrite the reality of the past like so many historical works do—this makes the work the show is doing so important. It’s surpassed being a TV show for entertainment purposes. Timeless is a reminder of where we’ve been as a country and a how-to on preventing ourselves from falling back into similar patterns. (Also, the Smithsonian frequently reviews the show, so you know it’s legit.)
Despite rave reviews, passion from NBC, and a lot of celebrity fans, like Kelly Clarkson (who recently got a fangirl selfie with Lanter when she ran into him at a sporting goods store) and Leslie Jones, Timeless has struggled with ratings since it first aired last in 2016. It continually trends at No. 1 in the U.S. on Twitter, but even still, social media won’t be enough for the show to hang on this time. Season two only got 10 episodes, as NBC revived it after death, and both fans and the creative team, have been biting their fingers in anticipation for a potential repeat of last year’s bad news.
Gauging the success of network TV has become increasingly difficult ever since DVR and streaming became mainstream. The majority of TV fans just don’t watch live TV anymore, so basing the audience solely on live viewing numbers doesn’t give an accurate depiction of the full picture. Networks are beginning to include DVR and streaming into Nielson Ratings, but they’re still not gauged the same.
Prior to Sunday’s season finale of Timeless, Erik Kripke, creator of the show, has been imploring the passionate fanbase to tune in live so that history can repeat itself and the show, once again on the brink of cancellation, can be saved. Kripke, the creator of Supernatural, brings a good portion of his fanbase to all of his projects. We’re a passionate bunch but NBC requires ratings a bit higher than what flies on the CW.
NBC is, however, fair to its shows and enjoys giving shows the network is passionate about, a second chance. Much to the relief of Brooklyn 99 fans, NBC saved the show after Fox axed it from its lineup. That was, again, following unparalleled internet outrage. Social media has given fans a much larger voice than they’ve ever had before and fans of shows like Timeless, Brooklyn 99, and Sense 8 have used that platform for let networks know just how big their fandom is and how deep that loyalty lies. In the past, if a show was canceled, that was it.
Now, there are streaming services that revived shows like The Mindy Project and networks that have overturned their initial ruling because of fans. It’s given a new age of hope to TV buffs and people will stop at nothing to give their fave shows a second glance. I really need an episode about Edgar Allan Poe, (Paterson Joseph liked the idea NBD.) So, let’s hope that the Time Team was yet again successful in their attempts to keep this intensely brilliant time travel show on the air. If not, anyone got a time machine? Asking for a friend.