Testing the limits and logic of time-travel and alternate realities, “Journeyman” zaps onto NBC’s schedule with a hunky lead (“Rome’s” Kevin McKidd”) and a confounding pilot, one that raises intriguing questions and answers few of them. Although the series has fun spoofing the past (starting with the size of cellphones) and appears more compatible with “Heroes” than the string of lead-outs that died in its timeslot last season, the show will need to get its bearings soon if it wants to maintain its hold on this reality.
A San Francisco-based reporter, Dan Vasser (McKidd) begins inexplicably waking up in the past, exploring the age-old “Twilight Zone” conundrum of whether altering an event two decades ago — the dilemma set up in the pilot — can change outcomes in the future.
Adding spice, questions from the past haunt Dan’s life, inasmuch as he’s married to one beautiful woman (Gretchen Egolf) but zaps back to a time when he was entranced by another (Moon Bloodgood), whose death profoundly changed the course of events. (The to-die-for Bloodgood also played the imperiled girlfriend of a time-traveler in ABC’s “Daybreak,” which might qualify as the strangest casting niche ever.)
Referring to his lapses as “trips,” Dan has a hard time explaining the sudden absences to family, friends and coworkers. Despite fleeting hints, the pilot from “The West Wing” alums Kevin Falls and Alex Graves is equally vague — as in “Why him? Why then? What can or can’t be changed? What are the rules here?”
As with other series along these lines, that uncertainty can cost a show viewers if the riddle doesn’t unspool just right, and the second hour doesn’t do much in terms of adding clarity to the picture, although it does feature an amusing glimpse of a 1970s plane flight, reminding us just how pre-9/11 (cigarettes, toy guns, etc.) things were back then.
Brilliant in “Rome,” the Scottish McKidd provides a strong central presence, but positioning him as a reporter — an occupation known more for observing than action — limits his ability to sway events. And while the general vibe bears a resemblance to “Quantum Leap” by featuring self-contained stories along with a serialized thread, other programs that have tested these waters (the aforementioned “Daybreak,” BBC’s “Life on Mars”) or will (Fox’s “The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” ABC’s planned adaptation of “Life on Mars”) either carry cautionary notes or should be watching “Journeyman’s” fate with considerable interest.
As with many time-jumping stories, the series does make savvy use of period music, wardrobe and gadgets to define and differentiate the times, but such clever micro details will distract from concerns about the macro picture for only so long.
Despite promising elements, then, “Journeyman” has set itself up with the daunting task of mastering a very tricky high-wire act, one that has left many a movie and TV show engaging in its own quizzical look back, wondering what exactly went wrong.