Friday, August 28, 2009

Hulu Recommendation Friday: Journeyman

When NBC released Journeyman for the fall 2007 schedule, I was a bit skeptical. It was hard for me to imagine a "lost in time" television series without thinking of it as a derivative of either Quantum Leap or Time Tunnel.

The show's premise seemed similar enough. Dan Vasser is a time traveler who jumps from point in time to point in time without being able to control his destination. At each point in time Dan has to help some person from the past achieve his or her destiny. The lack of control regarding the destination in time the time traveler ends up at in each episode is a unifying factor for shows of this kind. As a narrative device -- it is also a feature of the Gen X cult time travel show Voyagers -- the "lost in time" trope allows for almost any story to be told. It frees writers in that it allows them to write episodic narratives, with little concern for continuity. Though in the end most of these shows have tended to create an internal continuity in order to maintain audience interest. There is almost nothing devoted fans to any entertainment medium enjoy than debating the "history" of a fictional property. Just look at fans of Sherlock Holmes and how they attempt to "solve" various narrative inconsistencies, or better yet listen to comic book fans deliberate on the various timelines of pre-Crisis DC Comics.

I really had very low expectations for Journeyman, as did most of America apparently since the show never really took off. This is too bad, because Journeyman ended up being one heck of a show and this was due to two key differences between it and past time travel television shows.

Where other shows added a continuity after the show had been running for a while, Journeyman begins with continuity as a main component of its narrative structure. Dan Vasser's jumps through time are all related in some way. Dan doesn't know how they are related, but it quickly becomes apparent that they are. Added to this that Dan's travels through time occur spontaneously. Dan is a journalist, not a scientist, and he just starts jumping through time without ever wanting to. Why Dan is traveling through time, who is responsible, and to what purpose are all a part of the initial mystery underlying the series.

Additionally, a major part of the show is devoted to Dan's modern day family relationships. One could even argue that the show is really about how a person who randomly jumps through time is able to maintain a normal life and keep his family together -- especially when they think he may or may not be insane/using drugs. Dan's family has some nice character conflicts built in and the show explores them in dramatic fashion. Given Journeyman's lack of success, one wonders how well The Time Traveler's Wife will do in theaters as it has a similar conflict.

Kevin McKidd does a good job as Dan Vasser. McKidd is the kind of actor I like to call "a worker." His filmography ranges from cult horror films and video games to "respectable" roles. Any actor who is willing to do voice work after getting a role on Grey's Anatomy deserves respect for his/her work ethic. The fact that McKidd is a very good actor is icing on the cake. Gretchen Egolf and Moon Bloodgood are both good as Dan's love interests -- present and past -- and Reed Diamond is great as the brother who knows all about Dan's dark side and suspects his brother may be relapsing into some nasty behavior patterns.

Journeyman was an enjoyable show that never quite found its audience.

As always, hit PLAY...then FULL SCREEN...and enjoy.


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