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TELEVISION REVIEW : TELEVISION & RADIO

Time travel made mundane

In 'Journeyman,' a reporter turns problem solver, popping into the past. Viewers may wish he'd live it up a little.

September 24, 2007|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

What would you do if you could travel through time? This question has occupied imaginations as diverse as H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury and Audrey Niffenegger, author of the recent bestseller "The Time Traveler's Wife." Would you seek to prevent great tragedy -- warn of 9/11, assassinate Hitler? Would you try to repair damage done in your own life by one bad decision, one chance remark? Or would you just buy a few dozen Starbucks franchises or stock in that little upstart called Microsoft?

On NBC's "Journeyman," time traveler Dan Vasser (Kevin McKidd of "Rome") is mostly determined to get his cellphone to work. Understandable; he's new to the reality-shifting biz, and cellphones are the modern-day security blankets. Having spent most of his adult life as a metro reporter at a San Francisco daily, he's a bit baffled when, one evening, he gets into a cab and suddenly finds himself eight years previous, still in San Fran and close enough to his personal stamping grounds that he sees his former fiancée (dead in present time). Then boom, back to the present, where he is now late for his anniversary dinner.

And so it goes, one minute the present, next a blinding headache, wobbly visuals and, wham, down the rabbit hole, where Spy magazine is still on the stands and cellphones don't work (sometimes because they haven't been invented). Which means there is no way for Dan to pick up messages or contact his wife, Katie (Gretchen Egolf), or his editor (Brian Howe) when he goes missing for a few days. Dan also has a brother, Jack (Reed Diamond), who is, conveniently enough, a police officer. They all, of course, suspect he's on drugs (apparently, there has been trouble in the past), a suspicion only confirmed when he tries to tell them the truth.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, September 25, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
'Journeyman': A review of the new TV series "Journeyman" in Monday's Calendar section made reference to a Ray Bradbury short story by the wrong name. The story is "A Sound of Thunder," not "The Last Butterfly."

Time-traveling journalist played by British native McKidd -- it certainly looked good on paper. Alas, like some seductive Internet suitor, "Journeyman" seems perfect until he actually shows up, weedy and uncertain, at your door. In an effort to keep things grounded in "real life," as opposed to groovy sci-fi counterculture, writer-producer Kevin Falls ("Shark," "The West Wing") relies on an earnestness that grows irritating. Obviously, non-consensual time travel would be a bit unnerving at first, but Dan refuses to have any fun at all.

In early episodes, the audience gets some nice visuals -- the padded shoulders of the '90s career gal; the smoky, sexy mayhem of a '70s flight -- but none of them registers with our Dan. Although he is gone at times for days, he gets no city crawls of curiosity or nostalgia, no "buy property in the Haight" or "reinforce the levees" moments.

Because Dan is on a mission. Every week it would seem. He must tinker with the past to improve the future. Make sure little George Bailey doesn't fall through the ice so he can save all the men on that transport. Or something like that. Which he does with none of the haunting ripple effects, or suspense, evoked in Bradbury's "The Last Butterfly." No, Dan sees a problem, whether it be a guy about to be hit by a bus or a woman giving birth on a plane -- and he fixes it. "Take short, quick breaths and try not to breathe until I see the baby's head crowning," he says, unintentionally hilarious as he prepares to play midwife, utterly confident because "I was with my wife when my son was born." McKidd, so effective in "Rome," is lost here -- in going for an everyman persona (with strange "I, Claudius" hair), he is much more convincing as a man cursing a "no-signal" message than one stepping in at odd moments to save the day.

To flesh out the plots, there are past entanglements -- Katie was Jack's girl at one time -- and present problems, often clichéd: Will time travel keep Dan from seeing his son's piano recital? The potentially interesting effect the situation might have on the marriage is boiled down to "I'm not going anywhere" and "I'll always come back."

Much attention is paid in "Journeyman" to some details, like cellphones and currency, while other huge areas are manipulated for effect -- Dan works in perhaps the most architecturally cool newsroom in the world, yet he never seems to write a word. Perhaps because he is too busy Googling (well, not Googling -- that would be trademark infringement) the people from his fractured past. Amazingly, all he has to do is put in a name and suddenly there it all is: addresses, phone numbers and very decent photographs.

This, as any real reporter can tell you, is where we enter the realm of science fiction. Forget time travel, give us Dan's search engine.

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mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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'Journeyman'

Where: NBC

When: 10 to 11 tonight

Rating: TV-14-L (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with an advisory for coarse language)

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