Travelers: A New Twist on an Old Premise

I’m a sucker for time travel stories and last season three new ones cropped up, Travelers, Timeless and Making History. Making History was a joke and not a funny one, either, so it was no surprise when it was cancelled. In fact, I’m relieved. It gave time travel stories a bad name, in my opinion. Timeless fit a certain breed of militaristic high-action drama and was (or should have been) cancelled. I can only assume backroom politics reversed the cancelation order. Of the three, Travelers was by far the best.

It was a mid-season replacement and I was pleasantly surprised when it got a green light for a full-season order this fall. And best of all, this is a Canadian show good enough to compete south of the border. That’s an accomplishment rare enough to crow about.

Premise

I’m sure you’re familiar with the elements of this premise. They’ve been used in a multitude of TV shows and movies: a bleak apocalypse some-when in tomorrow-land, humanity versus AI, a time travel mechanism, and present-day visitors from the future.

And the twist—when compared to Terminator—is in the mechanism. Instead of a transported body-n-soul arriving naked, the travelers’ consciousnesses are sent to take over host bodies that are about to die. But they still have that objective we all know so well: to save the world.

Casting

The choices made for actors to play each role work well for a lot of reasons. To start with, no one is impossibly pretty and actor physicality matches character background. These actors—perhaps because they were found in Canada—look like real people you might meet anywhere, any day of the week. It makes it far easier to relate to them.

(If you’re unsure of the terminology used in these next paragraphs, please see Casting and Character).

Personality styles are well covered in the main cast and accented well in the supporting cast with MacLaren in the retiring-formal role, Carly his opposite in the bold-informal role, David as the retiring-informal and Trevor as bold-formal. We’ve got our Kirk, Spock, Chekov and Sulu right there.

As for archetypes, Viewpoint is shared to good effect among the core traveler team. Philip is a Jerk-Informer (a rare combination) and David—Marcy’s social worker—fills the Outsider slot with a fresh twist on the Enigma. Since all these characters would be considered enigmas in real life, David is the Enigma simply because he wouldn’t be an enigma out here in the real world. He is made the Enigma because his normality contrasts with everyone else’s abnormality.

The Ultimate Mediator is The Director (title case implied every time this AI from the future is mentioned) and Marcy plays the innocent.

Directing

This show benefits from an impressive list of seasoned directors from Canada and Britain (for a list, see the Travelers Wikipedia page). Not only do they nail each episode, but the flow from one to the next is nearly flawless. And with as much attention paid to getting the small roles working as it is to the main characters, the entire series so far could have been created by one single mind. And that’s a testament to Brad Wright as show runner.

Story

This is the only weakness I spotted in this series. Emotional involvement up until now is limited, but as time goes by and the actors become more involved with the show runner and writers to flesh out these characters, this can only get better.

There are attempts to draw the audience in emotionally with the plights of the characters as they struggle to stuff themselves into the lives left behind by their hosts and it does work to a certain degree. But you won’t find yourself grasping for hankies yet.

At the other end of the spectrum, you may find yourself sliding toward the edge of your seat when danger threatens, but so far, it’s plot that carries the heavy load, not story.

Plot

Here’s where Travelers really shines, but I suppose that’s no surprise with Brad Wright at the helm as both creator and show runner. He is, after all, Canada’s equivalent to Gene Roddenberry.

Whereas most TV shows suffer because of an over-developed season or series arc, Travelers approaches things from a refreshing angle, succeeding where The Sarah Connor Chronicles (TSCC) didn’t. Every time the future changes because of missions completed in the present, the characters find they’ve got some new wrinkle to content with. I always thought TSCC could have gone on forever with a mechanism like this, but for some reason, it was never brought into play.

Travelers makes the most of it, though, keeping both characters and audience on their toes. Half-way through last season, a major goal was achieved and it seemed like the characters would be left to their own devices for the rest of their lives. But then the wrinkles started coming and by season’s end, we had a heavy-duty cliffhanger to attract us back this fall.

Writing

The writing team here is top-notch and not just because each episode has its own well-executed problem/solution. Dialogue is bang on, plot is woven into story well, and there’s no fluff anywhere that I can see.

Conclusion

Travelers has a strong future from a storytelling point of view with a well-rounded cast, solid plots and a refreshing approach to season and series arcs. Canadians can take pride knowing this show is not just shot in Canada, but is the brainchild of a Canadian and is also written by and starring Canadians. Even the New York Times praised it and this is a major accomplishment for a Canadian show.

So, I’m ready to settle in for a second season and if the first was anything to judge by, I won’t be disappointed.

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Sounds like I might enjoy it as well.