Sunday, March 5, 2017

REVIEW: 'Making History' - Dan Messes Up the Timeline By Dating a Girl in the 1700s in 'Pilot'

FOX's Making History - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

A facilities manager at a small college discovers a way to travel through time and transports himself into the 1700s, where he falls in love and makes new friends. Meddling in the past turns out to wreak havoc in the present.

Time travel was clearly a hot idea during this past development season. All of the big broadcast networks have their own time travel show - except for CBS. In fact, both FOX and ABC launch their shows tonight - Making History for FOX and Time After Time for ABC. Meanwhile, NBC's Timeless wrapped its first season a little bit ago while The CW's Legends of Tomorrow is already through most of its second season. So, it's fun to see this trend get even more attention now. But it's also becoming clear that all of these projects have similar approaches to the subject matter. People go back in time, mess things up and have to recruit new people in order to get things back on track. With Timeless and Legends of Tomorrow, they had a certain conspiracy element to it. With Making History, it's the comedic approach on the material. That could provide a new perspective that is amusing. But Timeless and Legends of Tomorrow can be funny as well. Plus, there is nothing in this pilot that would suggest Making History has any better ideas than they did. So, it may just be the same as everything else that is out there at the moment.

Moreover, this first episode feels a little rushed. It wants to keep things as tense and high-energy as possible at all times. So, it starts with Dan needing to rush out of his office in order to time travel back to colonial times as quickly as possible. He does so because he's made a life for himself there. One where he is popular and has a girlfriend. But it's not long after that that he realizes that things aren't as they should be. The British have invaded and Paul Revere didn't tell anyone that they were coming. So, Dan has to go back to 2017 and enlist a history professor, Chris, to fix what he screwed up. From that point, it's just a wild adventure with Chris being astonished at being a part of history while Dan just laughs at him for how seriously he is taking all of this. All of this makes the opening episode go by quickly. And yet, it hardly stops at all to give any of the actions room to breathe. That's a huge problem - and one that the show seemingly isn't quick to fix given the twist at the end of the premiere.

Of course, it's absolutely delightful to see Leighton Meester in a comedy as Dan's girlfriend, Deborah. I didn't know what to expect from her in this role. But she's hilarious. That's largely because she doesn't get dragged down by all of the plot that is happening elsewhere. Dan and Chris barely have any time to deal with anything that isn't connected to the main plot somehow. Meanwhile, Deborah is able to just be a woman out of place in time with some hilarious deadpan reactions to things. The romance itself is very rushed. But it's fun to see her get swept up in Dan's charisma even though he's just copying famous songs and movie lines he knows from the future. And then, it's great to know that she's a strong and independent woman as well. She killed a bear while dressed as a female bear and used his arousal against him. That's just a great line - easily the funniest throughout the premiere. Plus, it should be fun seeing Deborah in 2017. That's one of the big twists at the end. She and Dan go back to 2017 while Chris stays in the past hoping to start the Revolutionary War. However, it just makes no sense at all. Dan and Chris know that Dan dating Deborah is the problem that caused these changes. So why would taking Deborah to the future change anything? It seems like it would only add to Chris' problems. Plus, he's the one who suggests it for no logical reason - other than the fact that she just saved his life from British soldiers. But again, she's very badass and a delight to watch.

Perhaps the biggest question from this premiere though is how long are these characters going to stay in colonial times? It's the time that Dan landed in where he felt most at home. He stayed there for awhile because he fell in love with Deborah. And now, it's where all of the problems in the timeline are. So, it's clearly going to be of importance this season. But will it be something wrapped up in the next episode? Or is it going to have a season-long story? Based on this one episode, this isn't a time period that I would enjoy spending a whole lot of time in. The humor just seems off and overly crude in certain places and absolutely lazy in others. All of the stuff with John Hancock and Sam Adams is just way too gross to be taken seriously or comedically. Meanwhile, it seems like Chris' whole purpose on the show is to be the guy where a lot of over-the-top stuff happens to him. It's suppose to be funny he drinks out of the chamberpot and yells in a high-pitch squeal after being taken by the British. And yet, it's just not. It's not the basis of a consistent character. Nor is the idea of using movie references in order to earn good will in the past. It's 2017. And yet, the audience is suppose to laugh at a "show me the money" bit? Or Celine Dion's song from Titanic? It all just feels like stuff that has been seen before.

And yet, the tension is high. Dan and Deborah return to the future and they see a stature commemorating Chris who is bound to die the next day in the past. So, that gives the show its premise for the next episode. So, Dan and Deborah won't be able to relax in the present because they'll be too worried about what happened to Chris in the past and how they can potentially help him. That may be fun if the audience goes along with everything that happens in this episode. But it all just feels like too much plot and not enough character. The character moments of reflection show that the series could go deeper with these people. It's intriguing to see Dan admit that he didn't invent time travel - though that's a road the show should carefully steer away from. The sight of a duffel bag as a time machine is a clever enough joke on its own without the need to over-explain it. Character moments like that will make it easier for the audience to become a part of this world and the adventures they go on. Right now, this is just a premise with no big tease of what happens next being any different than what happens in this first episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by Julius Sharpe and directed by Jared Hess.
  • John Gemberling and Neil Casey - who play John Hancock and Sam Adams - are series regulars. So, is that confirmation that this whole season will take place in the 1700s? Or is another twist coming that explains how they'll continue to be important throughout the various adventures in time?
  • The running joke about ham being a popular currency in the past is pretty great. It's completely original and unique to this show. It feels fresh in a way that all of the pop culture references do not. More specificity like that will greatly improve this show.
  • Deborah is vastly more impressive than Dan or Chris. They appear as slackers or wimps from the future while she's the badass killing bears, riding horses into danger and firing guns. That's a great feminist message - even though Deborah is the only female character of importance on the show.
  • As the show properly notes, taking a black man to the past is more complicated than simply a white man going. It had to address the "slave" mentality of it all. That's awkward but at least some explanation is given as to why Chris is able to speak at the local pub.
  • There is also way too much humor about vomiting. The sight of vomit should not be the basis for an entire joke. That's just way too lazy. It being a recurring element of the story but not getting any additional depth by the end is even worse.