This interview contains spoilers from the two-hour series premiere of Time After Time.
What happens when former friends turned enemies H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper accidentally time travel to modern day New York City? A lot of death and carnage, apparently.
ABC’s new adventure drama, Time After Time — loosely based on the 1979 novel and movie of the same name — premiered Sunday night with a two-hour kick-off that saw legendary author H.G. (Freddie Stroma) realize that his best friend Dr. John Stevenson (Josh Bowman) was actually the ruthless murderer Jack the Ripper, right as John steals his time machine to evade capture.
H.G. follows John from the 19th century to present-day NYC and teams up with Jane Walker (Genesis Rodriguez), a historian and museum curator with a specialty in H.G. Wells’ history, to find John and bring him back to his own time before he brings about a new reign of bloody terror.
By the end of the two-hour series premiere, H.G. rescues Jane from being kidnapped by John, but John threatens to kill someone new every day until H.G. gives him the key to the time machine, allowing him to freely travel through time to wherever he wants to go.
John was clearly shaken by his time with Jane, however, as she manages to make him question his very existence, pondering whether he can change from someone who needs to kill into someone good.
Elsewhere in the premiere, H.G. also met one of his descendants, Vanessa Anders (Nicole Ari Parker), who claimed that she met H.G. when she was a child during one of the time travel trips that he will eventually take in the future. And the final twist of the episode showed a mysterious man following both H.G. and John, who somehow knew both of their real identities.
While the premise of Time After Time centers around time travel, executive producer Kevin Williamson promises that this is not a time travel show.
“It’s all present day,” Williamson told Mashable along with a small group of reporters after screening the first two episodes. “We do time travel three or four times through the course of the season. We have fun with H.G. Wells’ book, his playbook, and we start pulling from his greatest hits. The idea is that you’ll see the inspiration for all his greatest hits. You’ll see little elements of The Invisible Man. By the time the show is over, H.G. Wells will go home to 1893 and write all his books based on his experiences in modern day New York City.”
Time After Time is a passion project for the showrunner, who says that the original movie actually inspired him to start reading H.G. Wells’ stories.
“We do a very faithful adaptation in the pilot, there’s no question about it,” Williamson says. “And then we pull in the thread of where the series is going to go, and in episode 2, that starts to evolve and expand beyond the premise of the movie.”
This season will follow the stories of The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau and The Invisible Man, and “we just start touching The War of the Worlds,” Williamson says.
What excited series star Bowman about bringing the iconic killer Jack the Ripper to life was not how evil the character was, but how “misunderstood” the actor believes he is.
“I don’t think he’s evil at all. I thought it was a good opportunity to do something different than [Revenge],” Bowman says. “It’s a different world, I think it’s an ambitious project. We’re dealing with sci-fi, which isn’t usually my cup of tea, but again, it’s something that was different. And the reduced order of episodes was also something that was more specific than having a 22-episode order.”
According to Williamson, viewers will learn more about John’s past and why he is the way he is in upcoming episodes.
“He’s just misunderstood. You can’t look at a character as pure evil,” Williamson says. “When I think about John Stevenson I think about more — you have to look at the biography… As a writer, I take it all the way back to the parents and what happened, what damaged him and what created this. Episode 5, we dig into it a little bit more when he goes in search of something and we take one of our time travel trips, our second one. He goes in search for his backstory and we open him up and you see what makes him tick and what is his Achilles heel, the thing he may have that has power over him. It humanizes him, in a way.”
What attracted Rodriguez to the role of Jane Walker was that she wasn’t just the damsel in distress that needs saving every episode. In fact, she’s actually the hero of this story more often than H.G. will be.
“Jane is a very strong, smart woman,” Rodriguez says. “I related to her a lot. She dives into her career, she’s independent. But this charming man comes along and sweeps her off her feet and that’s very much what women still want. They still want a little bit of romance and excitement in their lives even though we’re very much career-driven and focused women. She really is the hero of this show. She’s saving H.G. every episode, time after time.”
“She’s very equipped to handle herself,” Williamson says. “In [episode 2] alone, what I liked about it is she takes [John] out physically, she takes him out mentally, and then she gets to him emotionally and basically makes him question his very existence by the end of the episode. That speaks a lot about Jane; she’s got gumption.”
Expect to see the chemistry sparking between Jane and H.G. evolve into a full-blown, “epic” romance this season. In fact, according to Williamson, that love story is what the show is centered on, more than all the time travel adventures.
“Obviously there is that hesitation of what they’re going to do with this romance, because he does have to go back [in time] and write his books,” Rodriguez says. “I don’t think it even crosses her mind that she would end up over there. From the beginning, she knows that this is an impossible love. But you just have to live each day for what it is, right? That’s what she finally accepts and does with H.G.”
Williamson adds, “The entire season is three weeks. If there were to be an endgame, then yes, you have the question mark of is she [the] ‘Jane’ [destined to become the love of H.G.’s life] or isn’t she?” (In reality, Wells’ second wife was Amy Catherine Robbins — who was known as Jane.)
One answer that will be doled out almost immediately is the identity of the stalker following H.G. and John around.
“We don’t hold back surprises,” Williamson says of the mystery man.
But as for Vanessa and her lineage and connection to H.G., that is going to be a season-long, if not series-long, arc.
“That actually dangles for a long time. I don’t want to spoil too much,” Williamson says. “I don’t even know if we even wrap, I don’t know if that’s all answered for you by this season or not. I think that’s the future. What we do quickly learn is how it’s confirmed. It’s a show about family. It’s a show about H.G. finding his family. It’s about all of them reaching out and digging up their past. Vanessa Anders is the whole thrust of the story. Everything is based on Vanessa Anders and we see how Wells intertwines with that.”
Time After Time airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on ABC.