Should Jack the Ripper be super-hot?
The legendary serial killer has proven a fascinating historical figure for over a century, but that’s largely due to the way his crimes remain shadowed in anonymity, not because of his well-defined torso. And yet as depicted by Josh Bowman in the new series “Time After Time,” Jack the Ripper’s handsomeness and charm overshadow his murderous tendencies. He even addresses said hotness directly during the first episode, saying to his one-time friend H.G. Wells, “I know, I look absolutely dashing.”
That’s right: He’s sexy and he knows it.
It’s weird to see such unambiguous objectification of a serial killer on screen. In fact, this might be the weirdest aspect of the time travel drama, premiering this Sunday on ABC. A reimagining, if you will, of the 1979 film written and directed by Nicholas Meyer, “Time After Time’s” first two episodes serve largely as set-up. We meet both H.G. Wells (Freddie Stroma) and his buddy Jack (Bowman) in the late 19th century, as the two presumed friends debate what it means to live a life without fear and whether humanity will ever evolve to a better place. But the conversation gets interrupted by the arrival of the police, Jack’s decision to steal the working time machine Wells was just showing off (yeah, a writer invented a working time machine, just go with it), and Wells’ decision to chase after him.
Where they end up — you might be able to guess — is modern day New York City, as Wells’ time machine is now in a museum exhibit curated by Jane (Genesis Rodriguez) which is thus where both Jack and Wells find themselves deposited. Jack immediately takes to this new chaotic time and place, while Wells is awed by hoverboards and selfie sticks (and wipes away tears during a video montage of war, destruction, and Donald Trump).
Wells wants to bring Jack back to the past for justice. Jack just wants to have a good time in the future. That’s the cat-and-mouse game established at the beginning of the series, with Wells not only getting help from the charming Jane, but some additional allies (no spoilers here). While we only see two trips through time in the episode, more are clearly on the horizon for Wells, with deeper mysteries as a result.
(An obligatory note here about the original Nicholas Meyer film: It was great then, and it totally holds up now. If you’re at all on the fence about watching this show — did I mention that Jack the Ripper is super-hot in it? — you won’t be mistreated by going back to the movie instead. Malcolm McDowell is adorable, as is Mary Steenburgen, and David Warner is genuinely sinister as Jack.)
There is something compelling about the fact that unlike other time travel narratives, H.G. Wells is relatively clueless about what he’s actually doing. (The Doctor, he ain’t.) And without getting too much into what happens over the course of the first two episodes, it’s worth noting that one interesting aspect of the series is that there’s no immediately obvious procedural engine. Honestly, there’s something commendable about that: It’s not hard to imagine a version of “Time After Time” where Jane is reimagined as a hard-nosed NYPD detective and H.G. Wells helps her solve crimes — you know someone suggested this at least once during the development process, and it’s worth applauding the decision to let the show be a serialized mystery instead.
However, given how often the show finds ways to throw Wells and Jack at each other in just two episodes, it’s hard to see how much narrative there is in this premise. It’s an understandable hazard when trying to translate a film-length storyline into a TV show, but there could have been more done to inspire faith in a Season 5… or even a Season 2.
Which makes me feel sad for the solid cast, with Stroma, Rodriguez, and Bowman all sparking nicely off each other. Bowman brings believable edge to the more murderous aspects of the role, while Stroma embodies a sweet naiveté that’s well-balanced by Rodriguez’s quirks as a modern-day lady unlucky in love.
I also feel sad for Kevin Williamson. There’s always been a duality to him as a creator: the soft gooey caramel of young love, and the peppery burn of murderous obsession. Sometimes, the flavors work together, such as with the first “Scream” film or “The Vampire Diaries.” Sometimes, one overpowers the other or goes ignored entirely, leading to sappy favorites like “Dawson’s Creek” or off-putting exercises in unpleasantness like “Stalker.” But “Time After Time” could be a great example of the former in future episodes, thanks to the budding attraction between Wells and Jane and the antics of Jack and his knife, and it’ll be fun to see exactly what Williamson plans in this regard.
“Time After Time” has a fair number of unexplained questions to explore, especially when it comes to the specific time travel rules which govern this world. Can the future be changed? Will Wells ever be able to return to the past? How much will predestination paradoxes complicate things? And seriously, why is Jack the Ripper super-hot? Are we meant to take Jack’s super-hotness as a commentary on the connection between sex and death? Is Jack’s super-hotness indicative of the way his legacy has seduced history? Is it just that Bowman is an attractive young man who happened to be cast in the role and then shown shirtless on screen at least once?
I don’t expect “Time After Time” to ever solve that final mystery, but there’s enough intrigue to some of the time travel-related ones for me to keep watching.
“Time After Time” premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on ABC.