Travelers on Netflix

Welcome to the 21st…       

When it comes to TV these days, there is just so much content! As it is, I can’t keep up with the shows on regular cable TV.  I’m at the point where I watch almost everything from the DVR and at best,  I’m about a week behind.  That of course doesn’t even count streaming shows, where I may be months behind on.  It’s hard to avoid spoilers for a show that’s dropped on Netflix 8 months ago.  I do my best…

However because there is so much content, some shows get little attention, unlike media hyped shows like Stranger Things, which had a ridiculous amount of promotion, Travelers has barely made a whisper.  In fact the only reason I even heard of the show was because some guy on the radio found it by accident and really got into it.  So on that recommendation, I gave it a try.

Wow, was a blown away!  And it’s not because the premise is particularly clever or ingenious.  In the future, humanity is hanging on by a thread with the Earth largely uninhabitable, so to save themselves, they go back in time to make corrections to history to prevent whatever future disasters have occurred. That idea has launched many science fiction books and stories over the years.  Their method of time travel is only slightly less unoriginal.  Apparently matter can’t travel through time, so they send human consciousness into the “present” to inhabit the bodies of people that history records will die.

The actual results of this may be what make this show uniquely entertaining.  They maintain the cover of the bodies of the people they inhabit.  FBI Special Agent Grant MacLaren (Eric McCormick) is inhabited by a Traveler who continues to pretend to be…Grant MacLaren.  Although he’s briefed on the subject’s life, he’s not really that person, so whether it’s dealing with personal friendships, his computer passwords at work, or his “wife,” he’s faking it until he makes it.  Other members of his team include an engineer who in the future, is the oldest man on Earth, but in the 21st Century, finds himself in the body of a high school jock and bully.  The team’s doctor Marcy finds herself in the body of a mentally disabled girl, immediately raising the suspicions of her social worker David. The teams soldier finds herself as a single mom with an abusive boyfriend (one who was, by history, destined to kill her), and the historian finds himself in the body of a heroin addict.

For most of the team dealing with their new lives, there isn’t the constant scrutiny and observation, but MacLaren is married, and his wife, although used to dealing with an FBI husband who can’t speak about his work, is suspicious of his abrupt change of diet and personality. Team doctor Marcy has social worker David Mailer constantly in her business and finds herself under even more scrutiny.  Of course, she wasn’t expecting to be overwriting the mind of a mentally disabled woman.  David and Marcy’s relationship becomes the closest, and potentially most threatening to the Traveler’s anonymity.

This is Marcy (actress Mackenzie Porter) by the way.   

Well future knowledge isn’t perfect.  A mentally disabled woman and drug addict are not great candidates, but the limits of knowledge include not only official records but social media…so take that Facebook.

Ethically, the body snatching is justified by the fact that all of these people were destined to die within minutes of being taken over, so either way, they would have been dead. I’m sure that philosophers can debate the morality of that, but it has to be weighed by the good of changing the future to prevent multiple catastrophes that threaten the existence of the human race.

The show does a great job of gradually doing reveals, so that each episode you learn a little bit more about the Travelers, their mission, and the future they come from.  That’s a far superior approach than the old JJ Abrams idea of “I promise this will all makes sense in the end!”  And then it doesn’t make sense.  At least this way, I don’t feel cheated because the story gradually becomes clearer without curve balls and purposefully irritating misdirects.

So there are real payoffs on this show.  By the end of the first season, you have a clear idea of the Traveler team’s main mission, and by the end of season two…well I don’t want to spoil it, but it was one of the best season finale’s I’ve seen.  It had a really satisfying payoff, which is what all season finales should have, instead writing them into a corner.

Of course I have quibbles…  Why does Maclaren work so hard to keep his marriage together?  It’s like he’s trying to really make the marriage work, even though he is, by necessity, lying to her every step of the way, and he’s only just met her.  He doesn’t have the years and years invested in a real relationship with his “wife” Kat.

Also, I don’t think they really addressed the issue that the team has abandoned their original bodies in the future for what’s really a one way trip in someone else’s body.  You would think that the psychological trauma of looking at someone else’s hands, and someone else’s face in a mirror would be a trauma that would have to be addressed.  Instead, they seem perfectly comfortable in their new bodies.

I do hope this show gets a third season.  It made the top ten most binge-watched show for 2017, so that certainly gives me hope we’ll see more of Travelers.

 

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With 12 Monkeys, Cable tries to Binge

When Netflix started to do original programming and released the entire season at once, I thought, “What an original idea!  But how are you going to keep up the excitement of a show if you release it one shot and you’re done?”  Although it does limit the time frame of “buzz” it turned out to be a successful business model.  People can move at their own pace, which could be anywhere from watching the show on the traditional once a week schedule to all at once, bleary eyes and lost weekend included.

But I was surprised when the Syfy Channel decided to do the same thing for returning show 12 Monkeys. Airing season three over three nights, the network is trying something different.

It’s an odd choice for a cable network.  They have airtime to fill, so why blow an expensive season of an original show over a weekend?  And before you say it, no; this is not like showing successive Twilight Zone episodes over New Years. That’s simply to fill airtime during a period when viewing will be exceptionally low.  But dropping an original show is a streaming service move, which Syfy definitely is not.  So what’s up?

Well after watching Friday night’s initial 4 episode blast, I have to say I agree with both the TV Guide and TV Line reviews: This show was meant to be watched in a binge format.  Having watched Season’s 1 & 2 in the traditional once a week format, you often forget where you left off.  After all, this show is complicated.  Each episode takes place in more than one time period, sometimes with the same characters at different points in their lives. Sometimes, death comes first, as for the character of Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), who’s skeleton was discovered in the very first episode way back in season one.  Sometimes it’s in the middle, like for former asylum patient Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), who’s death was shown last season.  Not to worry though Jennifer fans, her younger self is featured pretty prominently this season.

And a good thing too.  The character steals every single scene she’s in, adding humor in otherwise grim situations without detracting from the grimness of the situations because…well she’s crazy.  So far my favorite episode of the season is episode 2, which is a Jennifer-centric episode.  Jennifer trapped in the past tries to figure out ways to catch the attention of the future so she can be rescued.  It’s entertaining and still moves the plot along.  So more Jennifer.

 

One character that I like, but has been degraded somewhat is Deacon (Todd Stashwick), the formerly ruthless leader of a violent gang in the future.  In earlier seasons, Deacon made a great foil as a villain more interested in looting the time travel facility than saving the human race. Unfortunately, the violent, evil, but witty bad guy has been tamed somewhat by his attraction to Dr. Railly. It’s not the first time on TV and movies an alpha male bad guy has been tamed by love, but it isn’t very realistic.  Hopefully Deacon gets his evil mojo back.

So maybe binge watching cable isn’t a bad idea after all.  Particularly if it encourages the production of more complicated dramas that may be digested better in very large bites, rather than doled out bit by bit on a weekly basis.