The other sci-fi Netflix release on Friday (the first being Sense8‘s Christmas special; I’ll talk about that show when season 2 hits), Travelers is a joint Canada-Netflix production following a team of five highly-trained people from the future sent back into the bodies of people in modern day just before they were supposed to die so they can prevent the terrible, no-good future they come from.
Yikes, that logline’s kind of a mouthful, huh?
One of the things that strikes me the most about Travelers is that despite it being a highish-concept sci-fi show in a golden age of niche and serialized television, it’s really a very classic show in the way it’s structured and executed. It’s not a procedural, but each episode focuses primarily on a mostly-self-contained plot and the serialized elements tend to weave in and out of focus rather than being brought up episode-to-episode.
That’s not to say that the show feels outdated or clunky, though. Travelers has a singular focus on plot that’s actually really refreshing; there’s little focus on interpersonal conflict or relationships in the show, and what is there feels less primetime soap-y and more . . . grounded, I guess I’d say. A big example is how Grant (the leader of the team) and Carly (the . . . muscle of the team? Some of the roles are hazily defined) have a preexisting relationship from the future. Other shows might have played this up in their interactions, or created a love triangle between Grant, Carly, and Grant’s wife (inherited from the person he took over), but instead the Grant/Carly relationship is basically a footnote.
The show is never unengaging, either. Despite the fact that most of the self-contained plots for each episode essentially amount to nothing, culminating more as a reveal of the whole picture than the resolution to a conflict, Travelers keeps everything moving at a good clip. Something is always happening and I was never bored with the show. It helps that all the show’s actors are putting in really solid performances; a lot of the character work for the main cast is done less through the writing and more through the way the actors sell their characters. If Travelers had lesser actors it would probably have fallen flat.
Travelers does some solid work with the moral quandaries/themes expected of science fiction, especially when dealing with time travel. On a few occasions the characters have to struggle with the fact that they aren’t allowed by their rules to save people’s lives willy-nilly (as the butterfly effect could screw things up in the future), and late in the season Marcy has to deal with the solution to her terminal condition being a rewrite of her consciousness, erasing all her memories since arriving in the present and essentially killing that version of herself. That plotline actually felt a little understated to me, but it’s a fascinating situation nonetheless.
So yeah, this show was a pretty nice surprise. Fingers crossed for season two!