Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen the number of superhero shows on our screens rise sharply. Arrow has now spawned an entire connected universe of shows, including Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl (who may become more connected with a move to the CW). Fox is doing well with Batman-inspired cop drama Gotham, and Marvel has expanded the MCU onto the small screen with Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter (not to mention Daredevil and Jessica Jones on Netflix).
For a while, it looked like superheroes were taking over television, but with this month’s cancellation announcements and fall season trailers, it seems that superheroes may be old news. Agent Carter has (sadly) gone the way of Constantine – cancelled, but with a strong fan movement to find the character a new home. Both Agents of SHIELD and Supergirl are moving – Agents of SHIELD to a new time slot, and Supergirl to a new network. And Marvel’s potential new AoS spin-off show, Most Wanted, is dead in the water.
In the slew of new shows announced for the upcoming 2016 fall season, there is only one new superhero show – NBC’s Powerless, a sitcom about regular people in a world where superheros are the norm. Netflix is still storming ahead with their Defenders series as well, but the flood of superheros seems to be slowing. Meanwhile, it seems like a new sub-genre is the fall favorite this year, as the network upfronts reveal that multiple networks will debut a show about time travel. Could this be the latest trend for tv escapism? Timeless (NBC) NBC’s time travel offering centers on Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer) – who appears to be a historian and anthropologist in the trailer. When the US government discovers that someone has gone back in time to change history, they create a team to go after them, and Lucy is the historian they choose. The trailer focuses on the Hindenburg disaster, with some decent-looking special effects, and hints of a time-paradox mystery with Lucy at the center. It looks like a solid sci-fi feature, without too much mystery or fantasy other than time travel itself.
Making History (Fox) Fox has taken an entirely different route with their time-travel offering, creating Making History – a comedy about a man who can travel back in time in a giant duffel bag, and uses this ability to get a girlfriend in the 1700’s. It stars Adam Pally (Happy Endings, The Mindy Project) as the hapless “hero”, who may have screwed up the American Revolution. He enlists a history professor to come back in time with him and set things right. Heavy on the obvious gags, this is definitely one for viewers who want to mix brainless comedy with a little fantasy. Time After Time (ABC) ABC, meanwhile, introduces a little more period intrigue and travels to the future with Time After Time. This sci-fi drama follows H G Wells (yes, that H G Wells) as he creates a time machine… only to have it stolen by a friend of his, who also happens to be Jack The Ripper. Wells chases Jack to our time, where he must try to stop his old friend and figure out how to navigate this strange new world. This has the most complex premise of the three, but it’s definitely nice to see something so different. The trailer is fantastic – suspenseful and action packed, with a little romance on the side. Not The Only Ones Three shows does not a trend make, but these are only the newest additions. Two new time travel shows are coming into their second season as well; Outlander (Starz) and Legends of Tomorrow (The CW).
Outlander, based on the novel series of the same name, looks like a period drama to the casual eye. However, the popular series is actually about a time traveler – Claire Fraser (Beauchamp/Randall), a woman who walks through a stone circle in the 1940’s and comes out the other side two hundred years in the past. They don’t do a whole lot of travel through the timeline week to week, but spend much of the series attempting to change history.
Legends of Tomorrow, which will wrap up its first season this week, manages to combine superheroes and time travel! An Arrowverse spin off, this ensemble show collects heroes and villains from Arrow and The Flash, bringing them together to travel to various time periods in an attempt to hunt down uber-villain Vandal Savage. Although it’s received lukewarm reviews for its first season, it has been confirmed for a second season, and there are plenty of dedicated fans for the show. The Granddaddy Of Time Travel
Of course, above and beyond all of these newer shows sits the original (and many would still say best) of the time-travel series: Doctor Who. First airing nearly fifty years ago, the series relaunch will premiere its tenth season next spring. Combining aliens, space travel, an immortal time lord (and his various companions), and the blue box known to nerds the world over, Doctor Who is an institution.
Is Time Travel The Next Big Thing For TV?
With more and more viewers looking for novelty and escapism, and with nerd culture bringing sci-fi into the mainstream, time travel could easily be the next big trend. Including the upcoming shows, we have a time travel series in a huge range of genres; crime-drama (Time After Time), superhero (Legends of Tomorrow), period piece (Outlander), comedy (Making History), and sci-fi action (Timeless), with Doctor Who (time)lording it over them all.
It’s going to come down to the popularity of these shows, in the end. While Outlander is doing well, Legends has been seen as something of a disappointment by critics, and Doctor Who has been suffering from a drop in ratings in recent years. It may come down to these three new series to sway the vote – if they take off, we can expect to see a lot more shows explore the timeline. On the other hand, if these flop, the subgenre could be shelved again. Only time will tell!