TV EYE: PILOT SEASON – ‘Journeyman’ and ‘Life’

We’re inching closer to the start of the new season– and here’s a couple more pilot episodes to contend with. Fear the spoilers…

JOURNEYMAN

When you can break a new series precisely down to its obvious influences, have very little genuine originality left over, and then also notice that two of its main influences are shows that died a relatively swift death, it might be time to worry. Journeyman has a major advantage in the form of Rome star Kevin McKidd in the lead role (although his US accent is still a little shaky), but essentially this is going to be known as Quantum Leap Redux, and there’s no signs that it’ll escape its predecessor’s shadow. Along with the aforementioned Scott Bakula-starring adventure, there’s massive helpings of Tru Calling, Day Break (even sharing a co-star- the fantastically named Moon Bloodgod), and The Time Traveller’s Wife, all supporting the story of San Francisco journalist Dan Vassar (McKidd), who suddenly finds himself leaping through time to different points in the last twenty years in order to help people out of various mysterious difficulties, like a grumpier and slightly blonder version of Michael Landon from Highway to Heaven.

Of course, he doesn’t know why, he doesn’t know who, and his disappearences are soon playing merry havoc with his life back in present day San Francisco– not to mention the fact that he keeps bumping into his long-dead ex-girlfriend in the past, and then discovers that she appears to be alive after all, and possesses the same ability as him… Where Tru Calling was a show that was desperately trying to court the teen audience in the wake of Buffy’s finale, Journeyman is skewed at a much older and wider audience, but at the expense of anything that might qualify as cult funkiness. The show does manage some interesting wrinkles on the mechanics of Time Travel (from McKidd being blamed for a car accident when he vanishes at the wheel, to him posing as an earlier version of himself when he returns to the past and even hi-jacking clothes from his own appartment), but while the script touches on some nice emotional undercurrents (particularly the thorny relationship between McKidd, his wife, and the mysterious ex-girlfriend), it’s all rather clunkily told with some truly dreadful exposition, and an emotional ending that comes complete with an on-cue torrential rainstorm just to make the melodrama complete.

At the least, there’s still plenty to explore- the mysterious girlfriend, the limits of McKidd’s abilities, and whether or not we’re going to be confined to McKidd’s lifetime and San Francisco city limits- a set of restrictions that could get very dull very quickly… (There was one scene, where McKidd awoke to find himself having teleported into some undergrowth, surrounded by dishevelled figures with men on horseback bearing down on them– for a moment, I got very excited and thought “Yes!! He’s back in the Civil War era!!”, only to find out he was actually in one of the San Francisco Parks, and he’d only gone back about twenty years. Bugger…) McKidd is an engaging protagonist, and it’s never boring, packing the pilot episode to the brim with story, and yet there’s little to single this out. My instincts tell me that the production team are going to have to pull some serious rabbits out of hats to keep the interest going, otherwise a rapid cancellation may well be beckoning…

LIFE

Much more traditional, and yet also much more effective is Life, the latest sign that US TV is being invaded by UK actors. We’ve got Kevin McKidd, Michelle Ryan, Sophia Myles (in the slightly dodgy sounding Vampire detective saga Moonlight), Jonny Lee Miller (in oddball legal drama Eli Stone), and now Damien Lewis in a relatively interesting take on the world of the cop show. The set-up follows Charlie Crews, a cop who spent twelve years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Finally, he’s been exonerated, and been released. He’s been given a settlement large enough to buy a ridiculously large house. And, he’s also decided, four months after gaining his freedom, to go back to work as a cop. The actual structure of the pilot episode is pretty damn standard, and there’s actually a surprising number of similarities between Life and dark serial killer thriller/comedy Dexter, where the procedural parts of the story are actually just a way of exploring the inner life of the protagonist– who here is a tremendously conflicted and messed-up individual, with a zen-like approach to crime and a man-out-of-time attitude to technology (He’s been out of the loop since 1995, so most of the digital revolution is completely lost on him). He’s also, as we discover, a man with a serious mission, but while some of Life borders close to trite, it’s also got a great edge to it. Crews has a partner with some major history to deal with and an apparent problem with casual sex, while he’s facing prejudice from virtually everyone he meets thanks to his joint existance as a cop and an ex-convict. Most of all, it’s Lewis’ show, and he carries it off effortlessly, giving Crews a slightly Martian quality, but not overdoing the kookiness. Certain aspects of the show need straightening out- and Crews’ nature as an oddball may need to be calmed down a little as time goes on- but there’s some serious promise here. As far as mainstream network US TV drama goes, this is looking more than worth a look once the new season comes ’round…

2 thoughts on “TV EYE: PILOT SEASON – ‘Journeyman’ and ‘Life’

  1. I’ve just seen the pilot for Journeyman and your analysis seems spot-on. I’m particularly struck by how blank Dan is as a character (in spite of McKidd’s best efforts). There’s nothing special or interesting about him except the fact that weird shit is happening to him.
    It’s hard not to compare McKidd’s character to Life on Mars‘s Sam Tyler (and I think it’s possible that LoM is another influence on the show), who was appealing in and of himself almost from the first moment we met him.

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    • You’re right about the characterisation- I think it’s one of the show’s biggest problems. Dan is, indeed, not the most exciting bloke- he’s the hero simply because he’s onscreen most of the time, and seems to have come from the stock Hollywood Journalist mold (Tragic ex-girlfriend? Check!) The thing that really pointed out the script’s flaws was that dull first scene between McKidd’s brother and his wife- it actually came as a surprise when they turned out to be in a relationship, as there was no hint of any previous history in that initial scene (plus, no real chemistry. They’re obviously going to be pushing the relationship/soap angle, but I’m not sure how fruitful that’s going to be…)
      LoM could indeed be another influence. I might watch a few episodes just to see how (and if) it evolves, because by the look of it, it could get very repetitive very quickly. From the pilot, I’ll be surprised if it makes it to 13 episodes, let alone a full season- but then, US TV can be an odd place. Look at the continued success of Ghost Whisperer…

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