Created by Kevin Falls
Produced by Left Coast Productions, 20th Century Fox Television
Aired on NBC for 1 season (13 episodes) from September 24, 2007 – December 19, 2007
Kevin McKidd as Dan Vasser
Gretchen Egolf as Katie Vasser
Moon Bloodgood as Olivia Beale
Reed Diamond as Jack Vasser
Brian Howe as Hugh Skillen
Charles Henry Wyson as Zack Vasser
Dan Vasser is your average every day newspaper reporter living in San Francisco with a wife and child, both of whom he loves and works hard for. One day Dan finds himself randomly transported through time with no idea of when he is, why he was sent back in time, or what he’s supposed to do. Dan quickly begins to realize that he’s been brought back on a mission to track a person’s life and help them in some way. In time, Dan discovers he has been given a guide to aid him on his missions; his former fiancé, whom he had long believed to have died in a plane crash.
Now Dan must endure random time expeditions that put a load of pressure on his family and work life, all while trying to unravel the mystery of who or what is behind assigning him these time travel tasks. The show is a heavily serialized science fiction series that puts Dan in situations to help the lives of individuals whose futures will benefit mankind for the greater good.
To look at Kevin Falls’ writing credits before Journeyman, one wouldn’t have imagined that he would be capable of developing one of the most underrated science fiction television series of the late 2000s. He had honed his skills in Aaron Sorkin’s writing rooms on Sports Night and The West Wing, and made a name for himself on sports related television and law shows. It wasn’t until his agent suggested he try something more genre leaning that he became open to trying science fiction. In the mid 2000s, science fiction shows had a resurgence, with the popularity of genre shows like Lost and Heroes being the hot commodities of the moment. At this time, ABC network had been looking for a time travel show to produce, and that’s when Falls’ agent directed him to pitch one to them. From there, Falls began developing Journeyman. After pitching the show to ABC, the network passed, which led Falls to take the project to NBC, who greenlit it to series.
Ahead of the show’s premiere, there had been rumblings in the press comparing the show to Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 novel The Time Traveler’s Wife, which had a similar premise of exploring the stress that time travel puts on a domestic relationship, rumblings that may or may not have affected the development of the show, as the strains of time travel on the character’s family life became only a small part of the overall drama of the series. Another common comparison that the show had to live under is that of well known time travel series Quantum Leap, which is one that is much harder to escape, but should not negate Journeyman’s existence to audiences. The show even made a very excellent nod to Quantum Leap in one of their early episode as a way as to embrace the comparison, with a moment where Dan appears in a church after another time slip, and the priest exclaims “Oh Boy!”, much in the way that the lead character Sam Beckett would in about every opening sequence of that show.
When the pilot premiered, the reviews were mostly mixed to negative, oddly condemning the show for being derivative and underwhelming. Despite the dismissive critical response of the early episodes, as the series went on, the show developed a cult status in the blogosphere, who created Journeyman wikis to track the complexity of the timelines of Dan’s (the main character) travels. Although there had been interest shown in the series by internet savvy viewers, the show drew in low ratings from the Nielsen audience, which made the Network unable to put faith in the show with ad support. When the time came to order the back nine episodes, NBC passed and instead left the time slot open to be filled with other NBC new show hopeful Life. With the writing on the wall and the writer’s strike looming over the show’s final episodes, it seemed as though the series would not return. Falls decided to imbue the final episodes with enough answers that he felt could be a satisfactory end for the show, despite having mapped out areas to explore in a possible second season. The show was then officially cancelled, and Falls went on to work other projects.
As far as fully time travel centric series go, Journeyman has to be one of the most cleverly crafted shows to appear on network television. Certainly shows like Continuum and 12 Monkeys have taken into consideration the sophistication needed to tackle the mechanics of time travel and tell these kinds of stories. Similar to Quantum Leap, this series puts the protagonist on missions to help people in the past overcome issues that were deemed for the greater good. This is an excellent device for episodic television, as each week there is a different person to help, allowing for standalone ventures. Where Journeyman differed from Quantum Leap was in the deep serialization of the narrative and how each episode provided details that would not only seep into the next episode, but inform the overall narrative. Dan learns that he needs money to get around, and that becomes an issue until he comes across a mission to help a DB Cooper type who had stolen a large sum of money. That then gives Dan money to use throughout history, feeding into the mythology of the DB Cooper character constantly evading capture. It’s a very clever idea that works to build on the show’s mythology by connecting it to a well-known urban legend. The series was constantly building from what came before, which made it unique and better than what critics perhaps assumed the series was going to be, based on the pilot and second episode.
To be fair, the weakest aspect of the pilot is in its mission of the week storyline, which tries to be surprising. But the stakes are not equal to understanding what Dan is going through. What works incredibly in the pilot is how quickly Dan comes to terms with his time travel dilemma and the determination of his plight to prove his sanity to his wife in order to protect his standing with her. There is a strong emotional core in the series that never wavers; Dan loves his family, and although he is coming to terms with his newfound undertaking, he does not want to lose them. The writing is very strong when it comes to that, and it is only made stronger by the talented cast.
Kevin McKidd is remarkable as Dan Vasser, coming off a notable turn in Rome, and presents a different side of his immutable appeal. Here he is a family man under great turmoil as he tries to do what he considers to be best for all. Although he is now mentored by his former fiancé, whom he had considered dead, his loyalty to his current wife is at the forefront, which makes the tragedy of their relationship and reunion very bittersweet. As Dan’s wife Katie, there is Gretchen Egolf, who is wide eyed and charming, has great chemistry with McKidd, and is able to portray different eras of her attraction to Dan throughout the years we are privy to. Then there is Reed Diamond, who portrays Dan’s brother Jack, who had dated Katie before Dan married her, and the weight of that fact is very present in the show, as it appears that Jack still has a candle burning for Katie. The evolution of Jack’s character is very interesting, as his love for Katie is very clear. But as the series progresses, his understanding of Dan’s situation and seeing Katie’s loyalty to her family gives him closure, and he begins to move on with a new romantic relationship that seems honest in both the portrayal and the writing.
The re-emergence of Dan’s former fiancé Olivia, played by Moon Bloodgood, is so ingrained into the mythology of the show and interesting with the reveals, that it makes one saddened to note that a lot of that backstory will not be revealed on screen. Bloodgood is very good as Olivia, as she gets to play off McKidd mostly as his guide. She has to be ominous, and wants to be forthcoming but can’t. Bloodgood does a great job of displaying that dilemma in her performance.
Aside from the wonderful writing and the amicable acting, the production of the show had plenty of great qualities. The special effects of the time travel could be low grade sometimes, with white ripples appearing at times that could be considered cheap to modern eyes, but is always acceptable in the reality of the show. The sense of setting is also very strong, as San Francisco is a very characteristic place as presented on this show. It’s also very clear to what time Dan has traveled to, as the music selections are very well chosen as notable of the time, but not obvious choices.
Journeyman is definitely one of the greatest time travel shows ever made, distinguishing itself from its predecessors and building mythology at a steady rate throughout the season. Series creator Kevin Falls had stated in interviews the direction he wanted to take the series in, and watching the show, it’s clear that there was something he was building towards that involved all of the pieces that he put into motion, and to see what could’ve been only makes this series cancellation all the more depressing.
The popularity of Journeyman has remained at the level of cult appraisal, and is often remembered favorably and featured in Cancelled Too Soon panels as recent as this year’s Season Four: ATX Television Festival. Even with praise from the television fan community, there is little representation of the show for mass audiences. This show had a great cast, an interesting spin on the premise, and mysteries that remain open ended. Even with the open ended nature of final episode, there is a closure to the show that allows it to be a great one season series without being marred down by the overall mystery, and is very enjoyable to watch even today.
After Journeyman’s cancellation, Kevin Falls went on to develop Eva Adams, a show about a womanizer who ends up in a woman’s body, then worked on Made in Jersey, co-created Franklin & Bash, and is currently returning to science fiction, executive producing the TV adaptation of Minority Report.
Kevin McKidd would continue his TV career on Grey’s Anatomy, where he is currently working as a regular cast member.
Gretchen Egolf has since appeared on shows such as Medium and Ghost Whisperer, and had a recurring role on Law & Order: SVU. She has last been seen in the pilot of Reckless.
Moon Bloodgood would go on to have appearances on Burn Notice, Human Target, and NTSF:SD:SUV::, and appear regularly on Falling Skies.
Reed Diamond would have notable roles on Dollhouse, Bones, and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and has last been seen on Wayward Pines.
Currently there is no US DVD release of the series, but there are full streaming episodes at Amazon streaming video page, and a fun gag reel available on Youtube. For fans with multi region DVD players, you can find the Region 2 DVD set here.