H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper, in modern-day New York City
“Time After Time” piggybacks on a microtrend of time-travel shows to mash together a few different genres into one unwieldy premise: notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper on the loose in modern-day Manhattan, with science-fiction pioneer H.G. Wells chasing him through time. The show is a televised, modern update of the 1979 film of the same name. But unlike that film, which enjoys the odd and speculative mechanics of time travel — or other time travel shows, which use the premise to go to various points in time — “Time After Time” doesn’t seem all that interested in how the machine works or in stretching it to its limits. Wells pursues the Ripper to modern-day New York from Victorian London, and then the show decides to just camp out, going so far as to disable the time machine by the end of the second hour.
Wells is played by the charming Freddie Stroma, best known as Adam from “UnREAL,” at an age where he hasn’t yet written his novels (but has already invented some kind of time travel). He makes for an engaging, accented anachronism in the big city, and it would be sort of sweet if “Time After Time” just stopped with that as its plot mechanism. (In one exchange, he ends a conversation with: “What is Oprah?”)
Instead, it seems like the entirety of “Time After Time’s” temporal shenanigans exists just to get to the point where Jack the Ripper (Josh Bowman) starts slashing and hacking his way through a cross-section of Manhattan’s comely young women. The show was developed by executive producer Kevin Williamson, who has also worked on stabby thrillers like “Stalker” and “The Following.” Both previous shows suffered from an antiseptic revelry in violence against women; “Time After Time” so quickly settles into the groove of serial-killer procedural that it appears to be heading in the same direction.
The two men quickly settle into a détente in which the third lead, Jane (Genesis Rodriguez), is used as a sexualized bargaining chip between the two. On one hand there’s Wells, who is so taken with the 2017 museum curator that he’s practically declaring his chivalric love by the end of the pilot. On the other hand, there’s the Ripper, who focuses both on prostitutes in 1893 and on young women out at parties in 2017. With Jane, he’s half-flirtatious, half-murderous, which is an especially stomach-churning combination when he’s trying to explain to her why he just loves killing women.
The premise should make room for bonkers fun, or at least attempts at bonkers fun. But the studied shallowness of “Time After Time’s” approach to violence makes for a sickening dynamic that attempts to cheaply humanize a serial killer. And while a shallow look at violence might be all that broadcast television’s standards and practices will allow, it feels both flat and exploitative. Bowman gives it his all to creepy effect — but after a few bloody ends, it’s actually difficult to keep watching the show whenever the character starts speaking to a woman.
Aside from Stroma, who is a charming fellow even in the worst circumstances, there is nothing to recommend in “Time After Time,” which feels neither adequately steeped in time travel or the lore of H.G. Wells to really deliver what its premise suggests.