Theorizing That One Could Time Travel Within His Own Lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett Stepped into the Quantum Leap Accelerator ... and Vanished
"Journeyman" / The TV Whore
Sept. 24, 2007
TV Reviews | September 24, 2007 | Comments ()
“Journeyman” is yet another in the line of shows where someone jumps around in time trying to fix the mistakes of the past. Of course, no show has done this better (in my humble estimation) than “Quantum Leap.” While “Leap” was by no means a flawless show, it was an absolute joy to watch throughout its five-season run, and I still miss it dearly. Which is why I was set to hate “Journeyman” from the get-go — I’m prejudiced against shows that are like “Quantum Leap,” because I’d rather be watching new episodes of Dr. Beckett’s travels, damn it, rather than some wannabe. But one episode in, it turns out that I don’t hate “Journeyman.” I don’t love it, either, but the show at least appears to have some potential. And in one respect, “Journeyman” is actually a sort of continuation-in-theme of “Quantum Leap.” Fans of “Leap” (I believe the die-hards call themselves Leapers) will recall that about the only thing we sort of learned in the frustrating season finale was that Sam was apparently going to start leaping around in his own body, rather than leaping into the lives of others. Similarly, “Journeyman’s” Dan Vassar jumps around in his own body.
As the show begins, Vassar is a simple reporter for a big San Francisco newspaper, happily married with an attractive wife and a cute kid, and getting ready to celebrate his wedding anniversary. But after a splitting headache, he finds himself having what he thinks must be a bizarre dream — he’s walked into a bar where a 49ers game is playing, only it’s an old game featuring (cocksucking) Terrell Owens catching a game-winning touchdown for the Niners. And the bar owner and patrons are treating it like it’s actually happening live. Vassar soon wakes from his “dream” to find that it’s much later in the day, and he’s now running late for his anniversary dinner. The viewer knows, of course, that this wasn’t a dream, but was his first trip through time and throughout the first episode Vassar will make several more trips back in time. By the end of the hour, we don’t really know many of the rules of the show’s universe, but we get the basic idea (what I mean here is that any good sci-fi story, particularly one involving time travel, has certain internal “rules” which shape the structure of what can and can’t happen within the reality of the story).
For example, we know that Vassar physically leaves the “present” when jumping back in time, which causes a host of problems. One imagines that he’ll eventually learn a little control over the timing of these trips but until he does there can be immediate consequences of a sudden jump, as he learns when he’s yanked back in time while in the middle of driving. Perhaps even more problematic for him, time in the “present” continues to move forward while he’s in the past, and it’s not even proportional to the amount of time he’s gone. That is, while one trip to the past appears to only have taken a couple of hours, Vassar returns to the present to find that he’s been “missing” for two days. This causes a particular amount of trouble with regard to his job and family life because, you know, bosses and wives don’t like it when you just go up-and-missing for days on end. With his sudden absences, it comes as no surprise that folks immediately jump to the conclusion that Vassar’s been on drinking or drugging benders, and there are hints that he might have had some type of addiction problem in the past (although that specific conversation may have instead been hinting that he had an affair — I wasn’t quite paying as much attention as I should have).
By the end of the first episode, Vassar seems to have smoothed things over with his wife, which leads to another “rule” we know about this show’s universe — the things Dan does while in the past have an effect on the “present” he returns to. That is, his changes to history become part of the present’s past, erasing whatever “originally” happened. Of course, this is a common aspect of time travel stories (think Back to the Future, and the changes Marty effected just by inadvertently causing his pops to knock out Biff at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance), but it’s not necessarily the way these things have to play out. The ramification of this cause-and-effect business is that Dan can set things up in the past for a payout in the future. We see one example of this in the first episode, and one wonders whether this is something the show will play with more in the future — the idea, for example, that Dan could do things in the past to enrich his present (not to mention the notion that he could try to make money in the past based on his knowledge of the future). But the other impact of this rule is that Dan, unlike the good Dr. Beckett, doesn’t need a holographic Al feeding him information about the future supplied by supercomputer Ziggy.
See, Dan eventually learns that he’s apparently jumping through time for the purpose of fixing things (“striving to put right what once went wrong,” if you will). While he’s in the past, he doesn’t know, per se, where he needs to go or what he needs to do. But apparently part of the whole time travelling deal for him is that he has an instinct for being in the right place, coupled with some not-so-dumb luck (and the show basically tells us we’ll learn more about this aspect of things as time goes on). But since he jumps back and forth, Vassar can also hit up the old Google while in the present, which lets him not only see the ramifications of what he did during his last trip, but allows him to figure out what he might need to do the next time he goes back. It’s definitely a convenient way to handle the need for information about the past, but I miss my Al Calavicci.
Other rules about Vasser’s trips through time remain vague at this point, although one presumes they’ll be fleshed out a bit more over time. For example, we know he can go back at least 20 years, but is there a limit on exactly how far he can go back? (The good Dr. Beckett had a rough rule that he couldn’t travel before his birth, although the show managed to get him back into the Civil War during the “we’ll do whatever we want” last season.) Similarly, we know he can show up in a different physical location, but so far his travels have been limited to San Francisco — can he wind up in an entirely different city or state? And what about the fact that his clothes and anything he’s holding travel with him — how big is the time travel “aura” surrounding him?
But I digress. Contrary to all this nerding, the show really isn’t all that science fictiony. If you don’t care about those elements, you can just accept the fact that Vassar travels through time, move on, and try to enjoy the show for its other elements. For example, it’s not hard to enjoy Kevin McKidd in the lead role, particularly if you were a fan of his wonderful performance on “Rome.” The only problem I had with his performance is that I actually found his American accent a bit suspect at times, although I was probably listening a bit more carefully than usual because of my familiarity with his real accent (but I’ve also paid close attention to Hugh Laurie’s accent in “House” and have found it to be generally flawless). But, again, this is a small complaint, as his accent doesn’t distract terribly from the performance, and McKidd ultimately brings the same gravitas to this role as he did to Lucius Vorenus (in fact, there’s so much of Vorenus’ seriousness in some of his performance that I kept waiting for him to boil over with anger and break someone’s neck). As for the rest of the cast, it’s mostly folks I didn’t recognize, and they all performed just fine. None of them stood out as anything particularly special but, more importantly, none of them were terrible.
The only other cast member I did recognize was Moon Bloodgood, who just so happened to be on last year’s time-travel show, the quickly cancelled “Day Break.” Here, she plays Vassar’s ex-fiance, and while she’s presumed dead in the “present,” there may be more to that story. But she’s certainly alive in the past, and Vassar finds himself repeatedly bumping into her, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. This actually brings up another interesting aspect of the show which is that, because Vassar travels through time as himself, he’s able to “slip into” his past life, pretending to be the Vassar of that time. He does this twice in the premiere episode, once accidentally and once on purpose. There are some interesting character development elements that come with all this, not just regarding his relationship with the ex-fiance, but also with regard to his current wife and brother (with whom he presently has a somewhat strained relationship).
Look, here’s the point. “Journeyman” is a surprisingly decent show. It seems to carefully walk the line of not getting to sci-fi, while having enough of those elements for the folks who want ‘em. But the important aspect of this show will be the stories set in the past. As much as I loved “Quantum Leap” on the whole, my favorite episodes were the ones where the “once went wrong” aspect of the story was particularly strong. Here, the part of the story involving the things Vasser was trying to fix wasn’t particularly engrossing. If the show can fix this, spinning strong stories as the best “Quantum Leap” episodes did, I think it could wind up being a worthwhile hour of viewing. That being said, I also have a suspicion that “Journeyman” isn’t going to get the kind of ratings NBC is hoping for with the post-“Heroes” timeslot, so regardless of its quality, it may not be long for this world. Which just means if you’re interested in the show, you might want to catch it while you can.
(“Journeyman” premieres on NBC tonight at 10 p.m.)
Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television editor. He wishes he could travel back in time to make some changes to his fantasy football roster, ‘cause he’s just getting fucking killed this season.