TV Review: 'Journeyman'
Kevin McKidd's compelling performance is reason enough to watch
The series, which debuts at 10 p.m. ET Monday (Sept. 24), doesn't feel completely formed yet, partly because its creator is by design being a little stingy with the explanation of how time travel works in this world (more on that in a moment). But a strong performance by star Kevin McKidd is enough to keep me watching to see if it all does come together.
Dan Vasser (McKidd, of HBO's "Rome") is a San Francisco newspaper reporter with what looks to be a pretty good life: a loving wife (Gretchen Egolf), a cute little kid (Zack Wyson) and a work schedule flexible enough to allow him to attend his boy's piano recital.
Until, that is, he starts jumping back and forth in time, going missing for hours or days at a time in the present while he's tracking people's lives through the past. To make matters even more complicated, he keeps bumping into his former fiancee (Moon Bloodgood, late of "Day Break"), whom he's never really let go in the eight years since he last saw her.
"Quantum Leap" this is not, however. Writer Kevin Falls, a veteran of "The West Wing," places the expected visual and aural cues in the time-travel scenes -- a giant cell phone here, a 12-year-old pop song there -- but beyond that bit of scene-setting each time, the mechanics of how Dan jumps back and forth aren't explored much in the first two episodes.
In fact, the ambiguity of what's going on is one of the show's strengths. Dan has no clue why he's been selected for such a task, and neither does the audience. He eventually figures out that he's supposed to follow one person's life and try to change it -- although not necessarily in the way he (or we) expects it to go.
Meanwhile, as you might expect, his frequent absences -- including one trip taken while he's driving -- put a strain on his present-day life. His editor (Brian Howe) is on him about missed deadlines, wife Katie stages an intervention and his cop brother (Reed Diamond, "Homicide") -- who, by the way, used to be engaged to Katie -- is hauling him in for leaving the scene of an accident. There are hints that Dan has displayed erratic behavior in the past, and even he knows how crazy what's happening to him sounds.
Those elements in combination could in short order become very confusing or very schmaltzy. It's a testament to the restraint in Falls' writing, and especially to the performance of McKidd, that we're willing to follow Dan on his trips. Faced with such an outlandish set of circumstances, Falls and McKidd craft what feels like a pretty honest response, and Dan is both smart enough and a good enough person to realize what he has to do when he's called.
His relationship with Egolf's Katie also has the lived-in quality of a couple that's been through a lot together; by the second episode, they're even making mordant jokes about Dan's condition.
That said, though, things are still a bit confusing by the end of the second episode. There are only a couple of hints as to why Dan's been chosen for his mission, and the show seems determined to dole that information out in small drips. Additionally, the romantic elements of the show, both with Katie and Bloodgood's character, Livia, at times feel a little strained.
"Journeyman" feels like a show that will benefit from a little patience on NBC's part; the second episode is better and more assured than the pilot. Will the network's new regime have that patience to let the series grow? I guess we'll have to wait and see.