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The first episode, titled The Cellar, is a light time travel fantasy written by writer, director, producer Jessica Sharzer (American Horror Story, A Simple Favor), directed by Chris Long (The Americans, The Man in the High Castle) and starring Victoria Pedretti (Evelyn Porter), Dylan O’Brien (Sam) Mica Stock (Jacob).
Jake and Sam are in the home restoration business and while working on an old home discover various artifacts from about a century before, including the photo of a young woman (Evelyn) who captivates Sam (somewhat of a distracted millennial desperately looking for love) and a barometer hanging in the basement that is somehow connected to infrequent yet powerful derecho storms (fast moving line of weather accompanied by high winds and sometimes thunderstorms); brought together, they transport Sam from 2019 to 1919.
Sam encounters Evelyn Porter, a young woman being married off to a local physician in order to save the family homestead (Mom is pretty insistent that her daughter do everything proper in order to not screw up their financial life line – highlighting the state of womanhood during the Prohibition and Suffragette era) but it is clear that Evelyn desires something different, something more than that life offers her.
Various obstacles are thrown into the path of the time-crossed would-be lovers – a doubting Jake, the jilted fiance, the weather itself, differences in customs and mores a century apart; various obstacles are also placed in the viewer’s path, not the least of which is – where did Sam stay at night over the course of the many days he remains in the past and, perhaps most jarring of all – where the heck did the whirlpool in the basement come from?
Despite both sets of obstacles, Sam and Evelyn manage to make one final trip from the past to the future; Sam remains behind, Evelyn finds her future in the future and both eventually discover that they are in their proper places. Credits roll.
The story itself is one of those time travel tales that ignores the mechanisms of time travel and the accompanying convolutions of cause, effect and paradox, the barometer in the basement and the derecho are merely a convenient device for advancing the story, itself a light love story, reminiscent of every light love story ever written: two souls meant for each other are kept from each other.
Such a story is meant to be carried by the chemistry of the actors and this is perhaps the weakest aspect of this first tale. None of the actors entirely hit their marks, offering up odd emotional reactions from time to time throughout the show – overly intense when inappropriate, disaffected when they ought not be, emotionally under-whelmed when they ought to be overcome: it’s almost as if they are receiving direction on how to emote from off camera and their timing is off (or as if they’re told “in this scene you’re supposed to be excited and confused”, but they don’t get why they should be excited and confused, resulting in puzzlement rather than confusion).
And then there’s the diversity check boxes; early on Sam dates a woman of color and shows her a photo of Jake, his little girl and Jake’s husband. There are a black jazz band and some customers in a speakeasy Sam and Evelyn visit. It conveys the idea that the show needs to be more diverse in its presentation but hasn’t quite gotten a handle on how to do it; we’re still seeing window dressing rather than engagement. (A true leap forward might have replaced Evelyn with Edward….)
The biggest thrill of watching this very first episode (which opens with the original John Williams’ 1985 title score) was seeing the title credit at the end –
which is, of course, the company that publishes this website.
Personally, I didn’t find this first episode to be as bad as the critics have suggested. I think it gets a solid B-, but then I may be a little forgiving at this point owing to finally getting to see the show after nearly five years (contract negotiations for use of the name began in June of 2015). And I’m very happy to see that contractual obligations are being honored.
All in all – production values are what you would expect, the story is in line with the target the show has always sought (families watching and sharing together) and the theme is marginally SFnal, (though time travel afficianados will have plenty to talk about) and my overall conclusions are: time was not wasted watching this episode and we ought to stick with the show to see how it develops.
I presume the next episode will be released next week (Friday presumpatively as well) and urge you all to take advantage of the free trial to check it out.
Reviews from around the web are mixed: