The concept of time travel is nothing new in science-fiction and neither is the idea of someone coming back from the future to the present to change fate. At this point, seasoned Netflix viewers may feel like they’ve seen it all when it comes to imaginative storytelling, whether it be science-fiction, supernatural, fantasy or whatever The OA is. The streaming platform’s latest foreign acquisition, Travelers, is a much simpler type of project, almost a throwback, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Hundreds of years from now, the last surviving humans discover the means of sending consciousness back through time, directly into the 21st century. These “travelers” assume the lives of seemingly random people. Secretly working in teams to complete missions sent by the Director in order to save humanity from a terrible fate, these travelers are: FBI Special Agent Grant MacLaren (Eric McCormack), the team’s leader; Marcy (Mackenzie Porter), a young, intellectually disabled woman in the care of her social worker, David (Patrick Gilmore); Trevor (Jared Paul Abrahamson), a high school quarterback; Carly (Nesta Marlee Cooper), a single mom in an abusive relationship; and Philip (Reilly Dolman), a heroin-addicted college student. Armed only with their knowledge of history and an archive of social media profiles, the travelers discover that 21st century lives and relationships are as much a challenge as their high-stakes missions.
The nature of time travel in Travelers means that they have to lead double lives. The one where they have to work for a better future and their lives as the people in the present, working jobs, looking after children and interacting with friends and family that they are supposed to have known for years.
What it does differently
At its core, Travelers champions the good side of humanity and this is emphasized in how the travelers experience certain pleasures in life for the first time. Played for light laughs, these “fish out of water” moments sweetly remind us of what we may take for granted. At one point, Grant used the phrase, “It’s no walk in the park,” and Trevor replied, “Actually, you should try walking in the park sometime. It’s lovely.” It’s Trevor who seems the most tuned into living in the moment and has raptures when eating a fast-food burger or cafeteria-grade corn, since food is apparently less plentiful or varied in the bleak future.
What it does well is take into account human nature in the travelers. Our world would be seductive to those who have leisure options, and that’s why the travelers wrestle with less straightforward choices than just saving the world once they’re actually in the 21st century. Succeeding in their mission comes with more immediate costs, which doesn’t sit well with some of the them. Losing focus and embedding oneself in a new life, is the classic conundrum of going undercover.
Travelers leans towards hope and action. They want to save the future and need other travelers to go to the 21st century to help them achieve their goal. At this point, we thank Travelers for very helpfully setting up the rule that all travelers call themselves by their host body’s name instead of their numbered designations, e.g. “Traveler 347.” Time travel has often played with the fantasy of changing the past, but it’s a nice change to see it used to appreciate what we have now while trying to change the future.
Is it any good?
A hiccup in the show is the rather cliche things some of the characters encounter. For instance, Carly’s alpha-male abusive husband, as it turns out, is actually a policeman. Another annoyance is the typically excellent Ian Tracey, who appears as Phillip’s lawyer who becomes a thorn in his client’s side when Phillip gives the gambler that day’s horse race results as a way to raise bail money. It seems weird to give the Travelers such problems when saving the future is a big mission on it’s own.
Travelers might be one of the most ambitious and down-to-earth time travel shows on television, but takes a couple of episodes to really start getting interesting and gives you a reason to carry on watching the series. It does rely on time-jumps, but sticks to a linear storyline solidly in the present, and surely needs a season 2 to address the lingering questions of the final episode.