Review: Netflix's 'Travelers' Is Binge-Watching Candy
How great a show is can often be calculated by how long it takes to binge it. I recently watched the second season of Amazon’s Man in the High Castle. I didn’t care for it. It took me more than a week to watch 10 episodes. I plowed through the first half of Daredevil season two in a day, but when the focus turned from the Punisher to Elektra, it took me another month to finish.
I finished Netflix’s Travelersin two nights. That’s the thing about a great binge show: If you love it, you find time to watch, even if it means sneaking in a few minutes while you’re doing the dishes or propping it up on your dashboard while you’re driving (this is illegal; do not do this); or missing out on an hour or two or three of sleep. You skip a trip to the movies. You bail on that party. You sit in a parking lot and watch it on your phone for 20 minutes before you go into the grocery store.
Travelers is that kind of show: It’s entertaining and engrossing, fast-moving, and addictive enough that you are willing to ignore some of the flaws in its logic, and there are a lot of flaws here, as is often the case with time travel shows.
The sci-fi series is a co-production between Netflix and Showcase, which began airing the episodes in Canada back in October, so Canada has already had the pleasure, although sadly they have had to watch it in weekly installments and the finale doesn’t air there until next week. The premise is sort-of Terminator-like: The consciousness of travelers from a future a few hundred years from now are sent back to the 21st century to inhabit the bodies of people seconds before they die. The travelers are often tasked with saving the hosts from death, although in some cases, they fail and the travelers die right along with the hosts.
The fun here is two-fold: One, the central cast are given missions (which gives the show some stand-alone elements in the series’ log arc), they are tasked to prevent whatever series of global disasters makes the future miserable to live in. Two, they have to take over their host bodies and acclimate into their new lives among strangers, strangers with whom they develop strong relationships. For instance, Eric McCormack — the nominal lead — plays Grant MacLaren, an FBI agent who is also the husband of a woman not exactly happy in her marriage.
There are a huge number of travelers, and new ones come into each episode to aid in missions or offer medical support (there are also some villainous travelers from another faction). The series, however, is primarily focused on MacLaren’s team. MacKenzie Porter plays Marcy Warton, the medic whose consciousness jumps into the body of a woman with severe intellectual disabilities, which creates a brand new dynamic with her social worker (Patrick Gilmore, who is my favorite character on the show — he’s basically Bradley Cooper in Alias). Reilly Dolman plays Philip Pearson, who jumps into the body of a heroin addict and has to deal with the struggles of dependency while trying to save the future. Jared Abrahamson is Trevor Holden, who assumes the body of a high-school football player, even though Holden doesn’t know how to throw a football. Finally, Nesta Cooper plays Carly Shannon, who assumes the body of a stay-at-home mom with an infant and an abusive husband, who is also a cop.
There are a number of complications along the way, not least of which is that the Travelers have to keep their missions and their real identities a secret from their new co-workers and families. There’s also a question about the motives of the Director — the system that assigns the missions to the travelers. The Director actually reminds me of Ziggy, the artificial intelligence that guides Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap. The travelers also know that big changes may also alter the future in such a way as to erase themselves from existence Back to the Future-like, but it’s a risk they’re willing to take for the good of the cause.
Travelers borrows elements from a lot of other sci-fi and time-travel movies and television shows, but it mashes them up in an entertaining way and applies them to a familiar but compelling formula. It’s heavy in theme, but light in its approach, and each of the actors brings so much life to the show that we remain hopeful that Travelers doesn’t fall into the Game of Thrones trap of killing off beloved characters. Travelers is not without its problems — the time-travel logic is inconsistent, and there’s always some technology from the future to save the day — but they’re flaws that are easy to overlook because the rest of the show is such a dazzling, binge-watching delight.