'Time After Time' Review: Sexy H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper make for surprising fun
I know. I see the consternation about making Jack the Ripper, a serial killer of women, a sex object by casting Revenge's Josh Bowman. I understand that adorable Freddie Stroma as Wells cannot make up for the title, a woebegone Cyndi Lauper reference that is only outmatched in cheesiness by the promo for the show that uses Kesha's "TiK ToK." I can't forget any of that.
But against all odds, the Time After Time pilot won me over. It's a silly bit of tripe that has a ton of fun with its subject material, yet gets surprisingly thoughtful about the consequences of plunging two men into our time — and about the reality of our age of violence.
Time After Time's premise is deceptively complex. While there's all sorts of timey-wimey talk about how exactly the cross-generational travel works, the only thing you really need to know is that H.G. Wells follows Jack the Ripper decades ahead in his surprisingly functional time machine. The two wind up in this show's version of March 2017, a world in which Donald Trump is president but the Spring Awakening revival is still on Broadway.
Wells convinces a museum curator, Jane, that he is who he is, and she joins him in the fight to keep Jack the Ripper from murdering young women in the present. Meanwhile, a woman named Vanessa Anders seems to be monitoring Wells — though the reason why isn't revealed until the end of the pilot.
It's a smart setup that extends the series beyond just its pilot: Wells and Jane work together to regularly stop the elusive Ripper. It's a structure as old as time, from Elementary's modern Holmes and Watson to Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? Despite the historical figures at the center, Time After Time is basically a procedural in fancy clothing.
What sets Time After Time apart, then, is in its charm and its intelligence. The former is obvious: Stroma plays Wells as an adorable, lost puppy in a three-piece suit. He's impossible not to care about, what with his idealistic view of the world that leaves him in tears as he watches news of Trump's latest unhinged rants and ISIS attacks in the Middle East.
Bowman, on the other hand, understands his difficult task. Yes, Jack the Ripper is stunningly gorgeous here, but he can't be redeemed: He's an unrepentant serial killer! So instead, Bowman infuses his natural enchanting smile with a layer of real menace. Even when he's at his most charismatic, Jack never feels anything but dangerous.
The two characters' relationship mirrors that of Batman and the Joker in The Dark Knight: An idealistic hero's abhorrence of violence is challenged by a psychopath who is determined to show the protagonist that they're not so different. This is where the show's brain comes in: Creator Kevin Williamson plays with how these men would react to our modern times.
Wells, a man who believes in socialism and inherent goodness, is excited about how society has progressed on race and gender relations, but is horrified by the malice of the world. Jack, on the other hand, relishes how violence is the norm. It's not reinventing the wheel, but Time After Time is surprisingly savvy.
Look, no one's winning their Emmy for Time After Time — unless the television academy seeks to create a "sexiest revision of history" category — but that's not the series' goal. This show is a surprisingly charming thriller that thinks a bit more deeply about its characters' morality than you'd expect. Again, it's not reinventing the wheel, but it's worth a watch. It's not every season that you see an absurdly fun show about H.G. Wells, after all.
Time After Time premieres with two episodes — the pilot and "I Will Catch You" — Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern on ABC.
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