Series premieres are incredibly tricky balancing acts between good world-building and engaging action.
This is perfectly illustrated by the opening scene, depicting one of Jack the Ripper's brutal murders, followed by drinks at the home of H.G. Wells where the killer strolls in, totally accepted as just one of the guys.
The show's central characters – H.G. Wells as portrayed by Freddie Stroma and Josh Bowman's Dr. John Stevenson aka "Jack the Ripper" – are perfectly displayed in contrast to each other when H.G. reveals his time machine.
While the rest of his guests tease him about having too much time on his hands, Stevenson immediately jumps into the seat and wants to take it for a spin.
What was truly fascinating was how their world philosophies play out in their conversation. Wells has this incredibly optimistic view of the future where technology will improve to such a level that humanity will have no choice but perfect itself. Total equality. Perfect peace. Universal health and happiness and opportunity.
In five generations, utopia will have come to pass. That's where I belong.H.G. Wells
Everything about his vision is so incredibly hopeful that it's almost a relief that Stevenson is there to shoot it all down, tied as he is to the darkest parts of human nature.
Mankind hasn't changed in two hundred years. We're animals. We hunt. We're hunted. It's the way it has been and always will beStevenson
It's also clear from their exchange that these two have known each other a very long time. I like that Wells considers himself "single" versus "divorced" and is rather proud and happy with his status as such.
His friends may tease him about this (and everything else it seems) but he shows that he's truly a romantic, believing that being with anyone less than the perfect person would be a stifling and terrible existence.
That romantic, idealistic streak is seen by Stevenson as debilitating fear of truly experiencing life, or maybe evidence that Wells has never really experienced true adventure.
He challenges Wells to try out this machine he's created and claims that Wells only writes in order to avoid living. Wells claims the machine still needs testing but Stevenson scoffs that he's just afraid it'll actually work.
The action picks up substantially when Scotland Yard arrives and the bloody knife of Jack the Ripper is found in Stevenson's bag. When Wells realizes his long-time friend is the infamous serial killer and has used the time machine to escape capture, he immediately follows through time to modern-day New York City.
The two characters are really perfect foils for each other and it seems, at least from this first episode, that Wells actually benefits more from the relationship. Stevenson, in his twisted scheme to find new hunting grounds, inadvertently inspires Wells to begin the adventuring he was stalled on before.
Stroma is brilliant in his "Victorian bumpkin" in the modern American city reactions.
Even before he steps out into the street, his little exchange with the African-American security guard about how wonderful it is that race is no longer a barrier among humankind is so genuine and sweet that it's preposterousness is almost forgivable.
In contrast, the speed at which Stevenson adapts to and blends into and immediately starts victimizing the modern world is chilling.
The idea that someone with no I.D. and no idea of what has transpired in the last century could acquire $15,000 cash and talk his way into accommodations in a few hours is boggling.
When they finally come face to face in the hotel bar, it's like seeing the two sides of one coin at the same time.
Wells, still in his Victorian clothes, calmly stating that he must take Stevenson back to 1893 to face justice, assured that what he's doing is right and the only possible outcome of the encounter. Stevenson, freshly styled and clothed to fit into modern (and fashionable) society, basically laughing in his face.
I belong here completely. In our time, I was a freak. Today, I'm an amateur.Stevenson
I wasn't sure whether the show was going to lean completely on the two male stars to carry the emotional weight of the narrative and if the "epic romance" advertised was going to be introduced in the premiere at all.
Honestly, it was completely feasible for Stroma and Bowman to drive the premiere. Their performances are strong enough to bring me back next week.
But enter Jane Walker (Genesis Rodriguez) the assistant curator in charge of the H.G. Wells exhibit that both Stevenson and Wells *pop* out of (about an hour apart).
She reminds me of Diane Kruger's Abigail Chase in the National Treasure movies. Especially in her initial scene where she clearly believes Wells to be an attention-seeking nut job actor.
Even after that first scene, I wasn't completely buying this as the "epic romance". Although she comments that Wells is cute, her co-worker states that Stevenson was hotter and I don't think we see the co-worker again at all. Either one of them could've been the romantic interest for all I knew.
Walker's appeal grows steadily though. I sympathized a little when she is chastised for the museum security breach. I appreciated that she technically "rescues" Wells after he is hit by the taxi and is really in no condition to leave the hospital for who-knows-where.
But mostly, I came to love the fact that she is both realistic about life as a single woman in a modern city yet naive enough to feel like there's a "Mister Right" out there for her.
Of course, she's such a perfect match for Wells in so many aspects that it is startling to have her pull out a gun as a warning that she can take care of herself.
Unfortunately (but I guess necessarily), when she's abducted by Stevenson, she does end up needing saving. It was nice to see her at least try to get away and save the really useless Julia.
In fact, if it wasn't for Julia, Jane would've gotten away. It was that darned conscience that kept her from running for the door, knowing that Stevenson would enjoy killing Julia in retribution. Definite points for showing character when it counts.
I see why H.G. is so taken with you. You are both filled with the same idealistic rubbish. I am exactly who I want to be.Stevenson
The last piece of the premiere to fall into place is the character of Vanessa Anders (Nicole Ari Parker) – rich, connected, and apparently H.G.'s great-granddaughter.
She's mysterious, secretive, and despite the genetic connection and the letter, something feels slightly off about her interest in H.G. and the time machine.
Most telling is how preoccupied her security team is with finding the key and preventing H.G. from handing it off in exchange for Jane. It also feels like Vanessa's husband, Griffin Monroe (Will Chase), can't possibly be as oblivious as he appears.
The most glaring anomaly that came up in the episode was the seeming demise of useless Julia.
Before departing for the museum, it definitely looked like Stevenson stabbed the bound and gagged Julia to death if only to prove to Jane that he is and always will be an unrepentant killer.
You know why I kill? Because the only thing more fulfilling than saving a life is taking one. The instant sensation, the release it brings, that slakes my thirst.Stevenson
When Vanessa's security team finds Julia alive, still bound, but apparently unharmed (?) it felt like an editing error. This being a time-travel show, there's always the possibility that something will be explained at a later time but for now, it's just going to stick out as weird.
There's lots to like in this premiere.
For two hours, it never seemed to lag. The action carries the viewer in a clear and exciting direction. The suspense was built well and there's a surprising amount of humor that fits in with the premise.
They've laid the groundwork for various plot lines and the main players seem to have believable motivation and realistic intentions.
So let's hear how you liked this first taste of Time After Time! Did it grab your attention? Were you excited to see Revenge's Bowman and UnREAL's Stroma onscreen together? Do you think Vanessa's on the up-and-up? And what about the thug? What's his deal?
Have any of you seen the original movie, starring Malcolm McDowell? How do you feel it measures up?
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.