Network television has tried multiple times to nail this kind of TV show, the time travel procedural. So did they nail it for the perhaps the first time since Quantum Leap?
Starting with our leading lady, Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer from Rectify) felt like a character we've seen before but a lot more natural. She never felt false, despite her fairly basic and familiar set up with her tenure chances in trouble, and her mother at the point of death. What I really liked was her intelligence and her ability to lie on the spot. Pulling out Nurse Jackie and Dr. Dre without missing a beat was both funny and character building (shades of the Winchesters). She also had to deal with a massive shock when she returned to find her mother was no longer a bed-ridden vegetable but her sister Amy disappeared from existence due to alterations in the timeline.
Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter) is essentially our leading man without the typical to-be-expected romantic interest in Lucy (for now, anyway). The obligatory soldier/special forces character with a tragic past, he spent most of the episode trying to save Kate Drummond (Shantel VanSanten), a doomed reporter resembling his late wife, who was killed when the Hindenburg crashed. Wyatt appears to be heroic but dark, capable of killing and throwing out one-liners with equal aplomb.
And then we have Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett), who was probably the closest we got to comic relief since he had most of the best lines in the episode. He is the black time traveler who is fully aware of the fact that most of America's history is not going to be kind to him. He has a crush on a co-worker whom he can't quite build up the nerve to ask out until the end of the episode, but as soon as the bad guys showed up, his first action was the protect her. He might be the clichéd nerd of the group, which means he'll probably be the best character in the series. So far, he didn't disappoint.
As for the plot and world building, it was mostly good but with basically one major flaw: everything felt derivative, like yet another government controlled time-travel program forced to set history right after a villain does something wrong. At least the villain was kind of interesting and mysterious. Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic) appears to want to dismantle America using time travel as a weapon. What is most intriguing about it is that he seems to be using a diary written by Lucy in the future in order to change the past in specific ways for reasons we have yet to learn. We didn't get a lot of interaction with him, but he doesn't seem like your typical mustache-twirling bad guy; he might have some interesting motivation for what he's doing. So that's good.
The centerpiece of the plot involving the Hindenburg crash was pretty well done. Using history as a framing device is always a quick cheat for background, but this time it felt pretty real with attention paid to smaller details. I particularly liked the fact that history was changed, with only a couple of people dying (including poor ill-fated Kate Drummond) instead of the 35 that were originally killed, when it caught fire on the return trip instead and was accidentally destroyed by our group while trying to defuse a bomb set by Flynn. I'm very curious what the other consequences from this first act will have, as we've already seen a major change in Lucy's present-day life.
The photo of Flynn they showed to witnesses kept drawing the reaction that he was dressed in pajamas. That was a nice way to belittle the villain without being overt about it.
The rules of this universe are pretty rigid so far. Our heroes only have one shot to get things right since they can't go back to the same moment without potentially encountering themselves, which apparently causes something horrific to happen.
The time machine our protagonists use is called the Lifeboat, the original prototype kept around just in case the primary vessel was stranded in the past.
We have a primary scientist named Mason who created the time machine, and who seems to have his own agenda. He tasked Rufus with recording Lucy and Wyatt in the past. Why?
Wyatt: "It might be the thirties, but Jersey's Jersey."
Crewman: "You think something this big actually flies?"
Kate: "Men. Always obsessed with how big something is."
Rufus: "I don't know how it works across the pond, but I am black. There is literally no place in American history that'll be awesome for me."
Rufus: "I'm in the damn Stone Age, but, man, I hope you live a long, long life. Long enough to see Michael Jordan dunk, Michael Jackson dance, Mike Tyson punch. Really, just any black guy named Michael."
Wyatt: "You okay?"
Lucy: "I'm--I'm claustrophobic. And apparently about to travel through time."
This is definitely my kind of show. My worry is that NBC has never had much success in genre television. It is true that NBC as a network is taking more chances lately, so maybe the show will be allowed to do its own thing.
3 out of 4 Hindenburg Disasters
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.