John Walker's Electronic House

Journeyman – NBC

by on Oct.05, 2007, under Television

Sometimes a new TV show starts, and everyone resorts to a lazy comparison with something from the past. And sometimes it’s completely valid. Journeyman is desperately waterskiing behind the Quantum Leap boat. Except, oddly, it’s nothing like it.

Quantum Leap plot: Man leaps through time into other people’s bodies, to put right what once when wrong, then leaping to the next person, in the next time period.

Journeyman plot: Man leaps through time in his own body, through various periods of a person’s life, putting right what maybe went wrong, or something, they don’t seem sure.

The problem is his helplessness. Dan Vassar’s Kevin is our portal for the programme, and he’s pretty much a bystander in all that happens. Which means so are we, staring at what seems like unwinding inevitability. For example, in episode two he first finds himself no longer on an aeroplane with his wife, but instead on one in the early 80s, filled with people smoking, kids with toy guns, and flirtatious flight attendants – look, it’s the past! He helps a woman who goes into labour, and then finds himself back in the present. Next he’s in the thick of the 80s, and meets the mother again. She’s debating whether to tell her daughter about her father. Then we’re in the 90s, and we’re with the teenage daughter confronting the father. And then it’s ’97 and he’s back on a plane, meeting the estranged and mean father, who has leukemia and needs a transplant. So we’re soon with the daughter again, and bringing her to meet her father again. And done.

Kevin certainly helps – he says the right thing in the few moments he has. But he doesn’t pick the moment, and he certainly doesn’t have time to think about what he might do. In the end he makes spur-of-the-moment binary decisions – be helpful or unhelpful – and the bounces home.

There’s all sorts else going on. There’s his missing-presumed-dead fiance, who appears to be following him on his “leaps”, there’s his current wife and son and their issues, and there’s the rather big problem of his constantly disappearing. And it’s in this that Journeyman has some success. So often in mysterious fantasy programmes, the protagonists’ oddities are madly ignored. Here his wife can’t deny what’s going on – especially when he vanishes from a flight. And gracefully, she accepts the impossibility of her husband’s newfound ability to time travel. Plus there’s the logistics of it, like the troubling nature of heightened airport security for a man who gets on a plane, but doesn’t get off. Or disappearing from the driver seat of your car as you’re going 30mph.

It’s a nice show, with a decent cast. But it’s forgotten something rather crucial – to have a point. So yes, he helps people out. But why? We never knew who leapt Sam Beckett, but we at least knew he stepped into the Quantum Leap Accelerator and vanished. And what’s the dramatic tension of the episode? What if he doesn’t do the right thing in those few minutes he’s with someone? Does he get stuck? Die? We can’t ever find out, because if he did so, the show would be over, him trapped in the past. So instead we have to assume his guesses are correct, as he helplessly stumbles through someone’s life. There’s never any mention of the paradoxes of time travel, never any concern over his changing the past (with him merrily crashing his own life whenever he gets the chance). There’s far more emphasis on the problems his time travel causes his personal life than there is of the journeys themselves. And that’s presumably because it’s impossible to write a proper story when he’s aimlessly flipping back and forth against his own will. So in episode one he – wait, I can’t even remember a week later. And in episode two he inadvertantly gets someone to donate some bone marrow, so some guy who was nothing to do with the episode will go on to do some humanitarian work.

It’s as if the show got picked up on a format that sounded like it had a good hook, but in practise has nothing it can do with it. It’s certainly watchable, but more for the soap of his life, than for the show’s apparent premise.

6 Comments for this entry

  • Tedi Worrier

    Speaking of Kevin, I watched an episode of The Wonder Years a few days ago … it was magic oh,rose tinted nostalgia!

  • pharoahe_monch

    those who know: should i download something called “Reaper s01e00 Pilot” or should i search for a file with s01e01? i wouldn’t want to waste time on both, if they differ as in, for example, Raines’s beginning.

  • Steve W

    They recast the love interest for the series proper.

    And with good cause.

  • Andrew F

    Sounds like the novel, “The Time Traveller’s Wife,” which was good at dealing with the consequences of dealing with his “illness” – he has to keep fit, he can never drive cars, he gets caught naked in the snow, etc – but no so good with the trite love story.

  • John

    Well, the ratings look like it’ll be Journeyman that goes, making way for the mid-season pick-uo of…


  • Don Sedberry

    The problem with comparing Journeyman to any other previous shows is simply that it’s a little more creative. While you are dying to know what god forsaken hook or reason for his ability is. It appears that they’re slowly answering that with the Dr of physics that he continues to talk to. I love the premise of “extraordinary things happening to ordinary people.” It gives him an almost comic book heroism. They have alluded several times that he won’t go back to the present until he does “whatever” he’s supposed to do, for better or worse in the past. I like the way the story is unfolding, I love that the main character is *helpless* to it. It kind of mirrors real life in a way, some people no matter how insignificant are often ushered along through life. It reflects humanity in a way that most sci-fi junkies aren’t used to.