Netflix Review: Travelers (Season One)
By: Packy Smith (@nerfedllamas)
What is Travelers?
Travelers is a new sci-fi TV series co-produced by Canadian TV channel Showcase and Netflix. The series followers a small group of “travelers”, a team of time travelling specialists from a dystopian future, in the 21st century as they go on missions to prevent the devastating event that brings about the total decline of the planet and humanity. In order to travel to the modern day setting of the show, these agents from the future have their consciousness placed inside the host bodies of people that already exist, which allows them to navigate life in the present by living out the life of their host’s body. Travelers was created and developed for TV by Brad Wright (Stargate SG1), and stars Eric McCormack (Will & Grace, Free Enterprise), MacKenzie Porter (Hell on Wheels), Nesta Cooper (The Edge of Seventeen), Jared Abrahamson (Awkward.), Reilly Dolman (Stargate Universe), and Patrick Gilmore (You Me Her).
The primary traveler team in the series consists of MacLaren (Leader and FBI Agent), Carly (Tactician and single mother), Trevor (Engineer and high school student), Marcy (Medic and Librarian), and Phillip (Historian and drug addict). Together they accept and execute missions given to them by a mysterious figure, known only as the Director. Each mission is designed to help architect a future that alters the trajectory of humanity in the hopes of stopping the cataclysmic event that creates the dismal future they are from. Along the way, the travelers have to juggle the various portions of their host’s hectic everyday life, all while coming up with new reasons for why they have to disappear randomly for hours, and sometimes days, to complete their missions. It’s a twisty and stressful life that these agents from the future lead, and their family and friends can certainly make things more difficult from time to time. Travelers is a show about correcting the future, and learning to live with life in the present, which helps keep the series grounded and relatable.
But is Travelers any good?
Yes, Travelers is an excellent time travel show that you should add to your “must see” list. At just 12 episodes long, the first season of Travelers is excellent for binge watching over a free weekend or slowly viewing over the period of a week or two of casual watching. Each episode builds off of the momentum from the previous, and the world building is done without feeling overwrought or reliant purely on exposition based dialogue. The pacing is terrific, and the show has so many characters operating on so many levels that there is nearly always something interesting going on. In the end, it’s the characters that will keep you coming back for more on Travelers. They are complex, endearing, tragically out of their element, and desperately trying to fit in to a period of time that they know about only from historical records and social media. Their predicament makes for highly compelling TV, and the nature of their missions will have you and your friends discussing the ethics of what they and the Director are doing for days on end.
Why you should be watching Travelers:
You should be watching Travelers because it is some seriously amazing sci-fi TV with wonderfully complex characters, fascinating lore, and a narrative that is expertly layered with a ton of smartly crafted time travel hijinks. But if that isn’t enough to sell you on the series, consider these spoiler free key points of praise that I have for Travelers:
– A truly unique spin on time travel: There are no flying DeLoreans or time-hopping phone booths in Travelers. With this series, time travel is achieved by importing your consciousness into the body of a viable candidate from the time period that you are aiming for. Due to the limitation of the delivery method, all time travel can only go back as far as the age of computers, as wireless data transmission must be available in order to upload the traveler into their new host. To ensure less damage to the space time continuum, only people who are going to imminently die are selected for traveler upload. Once uploaded, the traveler takes complete control of the host body permanently as the original brain has been completely overwritten and the original person’s consciousness no longer exists. As defined by the show, this is a one way trip and traveling back to the future is not possible. There are some variations on how this method of time travel is achieved, and brief messages from the future can be sent to the present safely via children without the need for importing a new traveler or you know killing the kid or anything horrible like that. What I really like about this method of time travel is that it means that any character on the show is a potential host for a future traveler. Knowing that anyone can become someone new helps keep the viewer on their toes!
– Exceptionally well developed characters: The bizarre nature in which the time travelling occurs leads to a ton of fish-out-of-water moments as each traveler adjusts to living a life that they know very little about. Most of the information that the travelers know about their host come from social media, public records, and smart phone usage, which leaves a lot of gaps, especially in regards to personality and personal skill sets. This is most apparent with Marcy, a traveler that is implanted into a host with a serious congenital brain defect. The host body was severely mentally handicapped, hardly able to read, but the traveler is a surgical doctor with tactical weapons training. Her automatic jump in intelligence and ability does not go unnoticed by her doctor and her social worker, and it wreaks all sorts of havoc with those close to her. Another traveler, Phillip, jumps into the body of a heroin addict which causes major problem for him when he experiences withdrawals. Every day Phillip has to dose himself (although Marcy is controlling the doses in order to ween him) to combat the symptoms of withdrawal and remain an effective member of the team. Each traveler has a host of unique personal challenges to overcome, and that’s before they even start taking on missions. On top of the travelers, the supporting cast is well developed as well. Marcy’s social worker David is taken on a crazy roller coaster of events that puts him way out of his comfort zone. MacLaren’s wife Kat has a hard time understanding why her husband has changed so drastically in such a short period of time. All of the characters have an arc, and each of them is unique and endearing. Trust me on this, this show will give you a ton of “feels.”
– The narrative evolves quickly and paradigms shift multiple times throughout the first season: A lot of shows stick to a narrative beat and/or MacGuffin until the season finale. Not Travelers! MacLaren’s team accomplishes their main objective early on in the series, one that should have saved the future, and learn that the event that they thought was the pivotal changing point that tipped the course of history was actually just one of many events that might have led to the downfall of human society. Bottom line, they have got a lot more work to do if they want to secure a better future for all of humanity. To complicate matters, there are multiple traveler teams all over the world, and all of them are carrying out missions that sometimes overlap and continually alter the future which can make mission objectives change on the fly. There are a lot of layers to the story and a heck of a lot of moving parts. All of the complexities, whether personal or mission related, make for some terrific drama and extraordinary character development.
– The finale will leave you literally begging for more. So much happens in the season finale. Twists, turns, new motives, new technology, conflicting mission assignments, serious danger for every character, and no is safe. It’s all quite thrilling and one of the reasons I love episodic TV as much as I do. When it is done right with the proper buildup of a good plot and steady character development, all drawn together with a satisfying conclusion that sets up a new direction for the series, it makes the time you invested in the series feel that much more rewarding. In a nutshell, that’s how I felt after finishing the finale of Travelers: rewarded. The good news? If you love what you saw in season 1, then you’ll be happy to know that the show has already been renewed for a second season that goes into production this spring for a fall 2017 release.
I highly recommend checking out Travelers on Netflix ASAP!
Frankly, there’s a lot to love about Travelers. It is a superbly crafted sci-fi series that is oozing with nuance and connection between all of the deeply fascinating characters. The journey that each traveler makes is harrowing, wildly different, emotionally charged, and genuinely thrilling to watch. The production value is quite excellent, as well as the set design and the soundtrack. Everything that you see on screen is intelligently integrated throughout the series, and it makes Travelers that much more thought provoking. Case in point, the use of future tech is sparse in the 1st season, but when is implemented it is used to great effect which makes their existence in the 21st century all that more significant and meaningful. Impact is what Travelers is all about, and each narrative beat or use of science fiction tropes is there to make the viewer think about what is happening and how that will affect the bigger picture of the series and the characters. There is a meticulously well laid out plan unfolding in each episode that will absolutely delight TV watchers that are looking for a smart new show to fall in love with. If you haven’t already watched the show, definitely make some time in the near future for Travelers, it will blow you away!