Who Else is Watching Travelers?

A few weeks ago, one of my friends on Facebook mentioned the new Netflix show Travelers, saying it was surprisingly good. I’m always on the lookout for new shows, and so when Denisa and I were deciding what to watch next, I figured we’d give it a shot. It’s always interesting to me, trying out a new TV show to see how good it is. You learn a fair bit about what makes a good show great.

Most shows can handle a pilot episode just fine. They’ve got all sorts of new ground to cover, and you can get by with dropping mysteries and hints left and right: things to hook the viewer and make them want to stay around. But once you’re past the first episode or two, it’s not enough to drop more hints at mysteries. You have to start giving viewers a reason to keep stay with the show. These are the things I look for at this point:

  • Characters. Are these people I want to spend more time getting to know? Am I rooting for them? Do they behave in ways that make me sympathetic? I don’t mean they need to be nice to everyone, but they need to feel real. If they’re making stupid decisions just so the plot can do something, then no thanks.
  • Is it avoiding repetition? I gave up on House after all of four or five episodes. Why? Because the show already felt like a routine by the end of those episodes. It was a formula. The same thing made me give up ultimately on Burn Notice, Black List, and many sitcoms. I want to be surprised. I don’t want to sit down to watch a show and have the only thing I wonder be what disease will be fought this week. I understand there are many people who like that out of a TV show, but I’m not one. In my ideal world, the show is about a theme and characters who explore that theme. That’s why The Wire was so awesome. That’s why I enjoyed Lost so much. Why I loved The Crown or Downton Abbey. A great show, to me, isn’t an “episode of the week” sort of experience. It’s a complete story. I love television for its ability to explore even more of a story than a movie.
  • Is it making progress with the big plot? What I mean by this is does the show start actually having plot progression, or is it artificially maintaining the status quo? The Mentalist is a great example of a show that failed this test. It had the Red John villain that was the supposed Big Bad of the show, and it tried to keep people interested with the mystery: who was Red John? What was the truth about him? But after a while, I realized they weren’t ever going to really resolve that, because it’s the one thing that kept the show running. It was the same thing with “Who burned Westin?” in Burn Notice. The show runs on a formula, with the one thing driving the characters forward from one plot to the next being this supposed mystery. That kind of show will make me watch in the middle of a season. I just gave up on Man in the High Castle for that. No thank you.

It typically doesn’t take long to figure out how a show is doing with those three points. They can fool you with smoke and mirrors for an episode or two, but here’s the thing: for a show to be successful long term, it has to make a pact with its audience. It establishes what the “rules” of the show are. What sort of show it’s going to be. And the pilot can be as awesome as they want it to be, but by the fourth episode, they pretty much have to reveal their hand. They need to, because otherwise they’ll be attracting an audience they can’t keep.

Sometimes there are exceptions to this. Under the Dome was able to run the whole first season with its mysteries, and then in the second season, it all fell apart. The wheels were churning, but it wasn’t going anywhere. No traction. I believe what had happened then was the showrunners knew they had a better thing going than what they’d planned, and so they tried to change the show to make it last longer. Make more money where they could, and so the show changed. It stopped making progress with the big plot and shifted into smaller mysteries that just didn’t matter.

Anyway. This is just a long way of saying I just finished the fourth episode of Travelers, and I’m really loving the show so far. It tells the story of a group of time travelers who have come from the future to save humanity from making a big mistake in the present. Great characters, intriguing situations, surprising plot developments. We could have a real keeper here. I need to watch the rest of the season before I can totally give it a Bryce Approved sticker, but so far, so good.

Anyone else out there watching?

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