Time travel is the gimmick that never gets old. Human beings love the idea of visiting the past, exploring the future, and discovering a new present. Any media with time travel in it lets us dream a little dream about what could be. The new Disney+ spin-off Loki revisits this theme, but the show has not leaned into the time travel aspect as much as initially expected.
In the run-up to the show, most of us anticipated weekly time-traveling escapades, much like Avengers: Endgame, the film that spawned the show. So, if you’re a bit underwhelmed by the lack of time travel on Loki and you’re looking for shows where it’s more than just a backdrop, here are seven shows with time-traveling antics that cannot be missed.
The 1995 film 12 Monkeys was critically praised and is still considered a science-fiction marvel today, so a television remake was an unexpected choice. But, in 2015, Syfy released the series remake, and while the show didn’t draw in unanimous praise like its predecessor, 12 Monkeys is compelling from start to finish. James Cole (Aaron Stanford) is a time traveler sent into the past by Katarina Jones (Barbara Sukowa) to find Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull) who can possibly stop a future plague being unleashed. They form an unlikely alliance as they are hunted by a mysterious group called the Army of the 12 Monkeys. Along the way, the pair make friends and enemies who will help and hinder their mission. Much of the show’s success rides on the spectacular characters, especially Emily Hampshire’s Jennifer Goines. They are so well-rounded that you really feel like you know these people. Even the villains are nuanced. The character interactions are also another selling feature of this series. Each season pulls you in with intrigue, betrayal, and plot twists, all while the characters “splinter” to different time periods seeking answers and the end to the deadly virus that will eviscerate humanity. There are surprising moments of subversion in this show, which make it that much more fun to watch. This series could be the cathartic viewing you need during an actual pandemic.
Continuum follows Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols), a police officer from the future who finds herself stranded in the present. When she connects with a teenage genius, the two strike up an unlikely partnership that will help them stop ruthless killers who have travelled to the past from the future. Continuum could easily have fallen into the police-procedural tropes we’ve seen a million times. But the futuristic angle and a complex set of characters and relationships made this show memorable. As a protagonist, Kiera is compelling. She’s great at her job, but also a person out of her time. She’s simultaneously solving cases while unable to do the one thing she most wants—to return to her time and her life. Alec (Erik Knudsen), Kiera’s trusty tech partner, has surprising story arcs as the series evolves. Kiera’s fellow detective, Carlos Fonnegra (Victor Webster), is far more layered than one expects. At once pleased to have a competent associate like Kiera, Carlos goes through bouts of suspicion when Kiera proves too good to be true. The villains are just as compelling in this show, able to thwart Kiera’s efforts while having stories of their own. Featuring a who’s-who of Canadian actors, Continuum is one of the rare shows to be filmed and set in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, which made it quite the hit for Canadian audiences.
If you’re looking for a mind-bending, jaw-dropping show, Netflix’s Dark is for you. This critically acclaimed German production is science-fiction and horror all rolled into one. The show is set in the small town of Winden and follows several sets of families, all of whom are interlinked in some way. The events of the show begin when a seemingly happy husband and father suddenly kills himself. His son Jonas Kahnwald (Louis Hofmann) is then sucked into a wormhole and travels to different times – and later, alternate timelines – where he discovers the truth about his town and his personal history. Dark is compelling television. You will never be able to guess what will happen next. This is edge-of-your-seat entertainment, and definitely one of the best original series to come out of Netflix. The casting on this show is outstanding – the story takes place over multiple generations and some of the actors chosen to play the younger and older versions of the characters are so perfect, it’s impossible to believe they’re not related in real life. The characters, once again, are the show’s greatest asset. Some you’ll want to protect, others you’ll hate on sight. The show concluded after three seasons, so you can marathon the whole thing without having to suffer through any cliffhangers.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
A group of heroes are brought together by a mysterious figure claiming that they are ‘”legends” who must protect the timeline. That’s DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, a spin-off from several CWVerse shows. Unlike the other CWVerse series, this show isn’t directly based on a comic book series, but includes several comic book characters as part of the team. The show took some time to get its footing – the first season was inconsistent and by the end, several of the main cast members left the show. But since then, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow has found its stride. The show is comfortable being quirky and campy, with a group of characters who are irreverent but loyal. They are quintessential heroes – in other words, they’re complete disasters who mess up every mission they go on but find a way to fix it in the end. The series is beloved for its diverse casting (which has become better with every season), queer storylines, and the adorable central romance between co-captains Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) and Ava Sharpe (Jess Macallan). Oh, and there’s a lot of time traveling. The team travels through time in almost every episode, and they need to dress the part if they’re going off-ship. The Legends know how to look good while they fight baddies, be they humans, deities, or even aliens.
We couldn’t possibly leave out Doctor Who from our recommendations – what would this list of time travel shows be without a Time Lord? The show initially ran from 1963-1989 before it was resurrected in 2005 (a failed revival film notwithstanding). Many new Whovians may struggle with the older series – they’re dated and the sensibilities are regressive. The new Doctor Who series, on the other hand, is campy fun. The titular Doctor is a Time Lord who travels through time and space with various companions in his ship, the TARDIS. The show is family-friendly fare with aliens that are sometimes silly and sometimes scary. But none of them is a match for the Doctor and their companions. Every so often the Doctor regenerates with a new face and personality, which has allowed 13 different actors to play the character, including Tom Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi, and Jodie Whittaker, the most recent Doctor and the first woman to play the role. Whittaker’s Doctor has had the most diverse cast of companions and her storylines have been more political in nature, drawing in newer fans. The show has also hinted at shaking up Whovian lore, which has already provoked some amount of controversy. Everyone has a favorite Doctor; are you ready to watch all the seasons to find yours?
Erased is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Kei Sanbe. The series was adapted into a live-action show by Netflix, with an anime adaption also available on Netflix. So, this is a two-in-one entry. Erased is the story of Satoru Fujinuma, who has the ability to travel into his past. When faced with imminent tragedy, Satoru must return to his childhood and prevent the murder and kidnappings of his schoolmates. Both the anime and the live-action shows are enthralling viewing. The characters are just regular people desperate to fix the wrongs in their life, which is what makes them so compelling to watch. Noriko Eguchi, who plays the mother in the live-action show, is brilliant in the role. The central murder mystery will keep you on edge – especially the storyline set in the past, because the characters are all children trying to keep each other safe. The Japanese setting is a refreshing change from most other shows, as well. Because the series is character-driven, you feel like you’re getting a taste of what living with these people would be like. The show also showcases Japanese cuisine that isn’t just sushi, which is great to see. The series could easily have been adapted for more seasons, but the showrunners stuck to the story of the original manga and wrapped up the arc in one season.
Timeless lasted less than 30 episodes, but it’s a beloved show among science-fiction fans. The show was initially canceled after its pilot season before being renewed when co-creators/co-showrunners Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan successfully pitched a more family-oriented story to Sony Pictures Television. When it was given the boot again after the second season, fan campaigns earned the show a two-part finale that wrapped up the story. When you watch Timeless, you’ll understand the love – the show doesn’t take itself too seriously, though the characters face high stakes. In the show, a mysterious organization steals an experimental time travel device for nefarious purposes. A history professor (Abigail Spencer), a soldier (Matt Lanter), and an engineer (Malcolm Barrett) are tasked with locating the culprit and preventing irreversible damage to the timeline. The charismatic cast, led by Spencer, Lanter, Barrett, and Goran Višnjić, will captivate you as the show visits some of the most epic moments in American history. The main trio of heroes are ably supported by a supporting cast of recognizable faces. Despite being about time travel, the story feels personal at times, especially since the main three character’s personal lives are occasionally threatened in the show. This is time travel with so much more, making it a must-watch.
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