Lesley Smith

No amount of philosophical study or science fiction reading would enable a viewer to disentangle the existential questions raised by its cavalier treatment of time, so Journeyman simply pretends they do not exist.


Airtime: Mondays, 10pm ET
Cast: Kevin McKidd, Gretchen Egoll, Moon Bloodgood, Read Diamond, Brian Howe
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: NBC
US release date: 2007-09-24

The premiere of Journeyman catapults Dan Vasser (Kevin McKidd) back through time. This allows him, in a San Francisco of the recent past, to intervene in the lives of others to remedy wrongs that would otherwise precipitate disaster in the present. Despite obvious similarities, the premise does not quite echo that of Quantum Leap. Dan doesn’t inhabit anyone's body but his own, and runs the risk of meeting his past himself. He also meets the earlier version of his brother Jack (Reed Diamond), wife Katie (Gretchen Egoll) and, apparently most importantly, beautiful Livia (Moon Bloodgood), the fiancée he might still love, who died in a plane crash nine years earlier.

No amount of philosophical study or science fiction reading would enable a viewer to disentangle the existential questions raised by such cavalier treatment of time, so the series simply pretends they do not exist. Instead, Dan wallows in the security of a loving, if furious and puzzled, wife, and simultaneously indulges in a tantalizing replay of his affair with her never-forgotten predecessor. In this absurd male wish fulfillment, a midlife crisis involves having one's cake and eating it, and having it all over again tomorrow, yesterday, and 10 or 20 years ago, too.

The casting of Kevin McKidd, who has all the bad-boy charm of fellow Brits like Daniel Craig and Sean Connery, gives Dan some credibility as a man whose family life sits unsteadily atop a past of drinking, gambling, and drug use. But while McKidd is burning up the primetime screen, the rest of the cast is sleepwalking through a Lifetime movie. When Dan returns to his home, dirty and unshaven after going missing for two days, even McKidd's mother might believe he'd barely survived an epic bender. And when Dan grabs a pickaxe to attack, with manic energy for fear of losing his sanity, the concrete patio in his back garden, his desperation is riveting. But then Katie rushes up the steps to the house, squeaking with the terror of someone who has almost stepped on a dead mouse (except for a key scene when she channels a Teri Hatcher-like goofiness, Egoll simply fills the space opposite McKidd). Jack, Katie's ex, is similarly limited. As the only actor who could cause an episode of Homicide: Life on the Streets to turn banal, Diamond makes it easy to believe Katie would reject him in favor of Dan.

While the characters flail, the show spirals around two central conceits -- Dan's time-traveling do-gooding and his too-trendy access to the dead. While Dan's encounters with Livia offer a twist on the tired "Will they or won't they?" tension, their encounters are soaked in sentimentality. A repeat of the last time he ever saw her and a wistful, almost-erotic encounter in their bedroom, suggest Dan is not so much reliving the past as idealizing it.

Though Dan himself maintains an eerie remove during his voyeuristic observations of his younger self, these scenes never cohere into creepiness or complexity. In this, Journeyman recalls The West Wing, on which both writer Kevin Falls and director Alex Graves both worked, where fine ensemble acting and liberal-leaning storylines couldn't hide a heart of socially conservative superficiality. Occasionally, the episode glints with the tart dialogue and swift-moving scenes that provided so much incidental pleasure on The West Wing. Dan's attempt to explain the time travel to Katie elicits an acid inquiry about exactly how many other couples in San Francisco are having the same conversation. And when he's urged to seek help, his face conveys, in a quick series of changing expressions, the sheer hopelessness of responding sensibly to the assembly of friends and family immersed in self-help culture and "intervention" therapy.

By the end of the premiere episode, however, the emotionalized mechanics of time travel are more likely to prompt surreal speculation on the effects of sex outside the space-time continuum than interest in what happens to Dan. That's mostly set by formula anyway, as he's the hero whose wife won't leave and who won't get fired from his lucrative job, even although a reporter who can only go back to the past is no asset for a newspaper interested in today's scandals. Though the show might conjure intriguing plots from a kicked-out down-and-outer's time travels. If he had no cozy present to return to, the past might look very different.

It could be that the future will be different too. A late-developing plotline suggests that neither death nor the past are what they seem, occasioning little islands of irony. Once freed from the scaffolding and backstory constraints of a series premiere, Journeyman may find itself.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.