The characters of “Timeless” travel to different time periods in every episode, which means the show resets each week. But the series, which survived a temporary cancellation by NBC last May, has even more changes in store for its second season.
Series co-creator Eric Kripke, who handed off showrunning duties to Arika Lisanne Mittman and Tom Smuts, say the show is taking “bigger risks and bigger swings” this time out.
But, he says, it’s not a response to the near-cancellation. “I have this expression in the writers’ room, which is ‘Smoke ’em if you got ’em,’” Kripke says, explaining it’s a belief he has held since the early days of “Supernatural,” the CW demon hunting drama he created and ran for five seasons. “We’ll find more story later, if we’re lucky enough to get picked up again. I think that’s healthy for a show. I think it gives a show a certain daring and a certain reckless storytelling that makes it exciting to watch.”
For the second season, which returns March 11, it was important to Kripke, his co-creator Shawn Ryan and the new showrunners to “double down” on what they felt worked about the first season. This includes ensuring the tone of the show remains “rollicking” and akin to “Back to the Future,” says Kripke, as well as focusing on how changes to history affect the core characters emotionally and personally.
“This year we wanted to delve into more — not just how Lucy is missing her sister but how the backgrounds of our other characters potentially change as they’re mucking around with history,” Kripke says.
This season finds Abigail Spencer’s character, Lucy, physically working alongside her mother (Susanna Thompson) and Rittenhouse operative Emma (Annie Wersching), traveling back in time to World War I to rescue a soldier who is supposed to die in battle. But secretly, because she fears her friends have been killed, she is planning to get rid of the mothership — which she assumes is the only vehicle left that can transport people through time.
“We meet Lucy in a fragile state because she is going to use herself as a human sacrifice for what she thinks is the greater good,” Spencer says. “Part of the arc this season is who is Lucy without wanting to keep everything in history the same? Now she realizes how fragile history is, and do you try and keep everything the same if you’re just going to get the same results? I think it’s a reflection of where we are today — if you just keep doing the same things, you’re going to get the same results, so we actually have to learn from our past and try and make [better] decisions.”
Kripke says the show’s approach to inclusive storyline telling is another element that will be deepened in the second season. “History belongs to everybody, not just a bunch of white dudes,” he says. “I think the stories we’re telling are stories that are both underrepresented and deserve to be told.”
So the show will dive into important historical figures such as “grandfather of rock and roll” Robert Johnson; Nobel Prize winning scientist Marie Curie and her daughter Irene; the actress who invented WiFi, Hedy Lamarr; the first African-American Nascar driver, Wendell Scott; the first unofficial female NYPD officer Grace Humiston; Benjamin Franklin’s mother Abidah; the leader of the National Women’s Party, Alice Paul; and the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman.
“What I think is very interesting this season is we really are only going back to visit historical women and historical African-American characters,” Spencer says. “I don’t think it’s a mistake that Rittenhouse is trying to target African-Americans and women of the past. I think it’s very timely for what’s happening right now.”
Kripke, who admits he grew up “fascinated” by Johnson, told a version of his story in “Supernatural” in 2006. But then the man and the story had to fit into a very specific genre world. In “Timeless,” he gets to revisit not only the mythology around the man but also the world he lives in.
“These juke joints and lonely roads and these traveling, guitarist gunslingers — they’re so detailed and evocative and fascinating and almost entirely peopled with African-Americans. It’s just a beautiful world you haven’t seen before on TV, and to me that’s just a sweet spot of what the show wants to be,” Kripke says.
When it comes to figures such as Abiah Franklin and Harriet Tubman, Kripke notes the importance of going deeper than just the usual headlines.
“Everyone has heard of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, but she was like a full-on spy and soldier during the Civil War and the only female to command forces. She was bada–! She was like Sarah Connor in the middle of the Civil War, and that’s an interesting story, and people should know that,” he says.
Spencer says she has heard from a lot of viewers already who like to “watch the caper but also learn something.” That’s an aspect of the show she’s most proud of.
“I’m really hoping what ‘Timeless’ offers to people is a digestible, cross-cultural, aspirational hour of television where everybody can sit together and learn something and create a conversation around people and moments in history that haven’t gotten their due,” she says. “My hope is that it also creates conversation about how you can relate to what’s going on today.”