I’m a sucker for romantic TV shows, which is why I was so excited to check out HBO’s new series THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE. But despite its premise, romance is exactly what this series is missing. Created by Steven Moffat (SHERLOCK, DOCTOR WHO), the series focuses so much on the time travel element, it fails to build the relationship between the lead characters, which should be the heart of the series. Instead, audiences are left trying to keep track of which Henry (Theo James) is interacting with which Clare (Rose Leslie), and all of the rules that come with it. And that seems more like a school project as opposed to losing yourself in the relationship between the characters and rooting for them to be together throughout time.
Following the book and movie of the same name, the series follows Henry, a man who has been time traveling since he was a little boy, but has no control over when this occurs or what time period he is traveling to. When he lands at this destination in time, he is naked, has no money, and has to fend for himself until he goes back to his “present,” whatever that is. Henry meets Clare, the love of his life, at university when she is 20 and he is 28. Yet Clare has already known Henry for 14 years. You see, older versions of Henry have been visiting Clare at her childhood home since she was 6 years old and she has loved Henry all this time. Now that they have finally met in each other’s version of the present, Clare has to now contend with all of the various past and future Henrys dropping, quite literally, into her adult life; there are sometimes even multiple Henrys at the same time. Are you confused yet?
Moffat clearly spent more time developing the rules of time travel than the romance between the lead characters, which is supposed to be the backbone of THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE. You have to care about the relationship between Clare and Henry for the time travel to matter and I wish we had gotten to see more of the couple in love. We keep being told how much the two have loved each other throughout time, but we don’t get to see it as much as we should. James and Leslie’s chemistry is shaky at best when they do have romantic scenes together, but I think that is more a result of there being very few romantic scenes that give them the material to really build that relationship. We are instead left more with their characters talking about time travel, bickering, or wishing they were with another version of themselves.
The dialogue was also pretty cringey. I appreciate that the series tried to address the obvious problems of grooming a young child to love an older man for her entire life, and his showing up naked in her backyard when he time travels there, but it didn’t make the situation any better. I am usually a stickler for authenticity to the source material, but maybe, just maybe, in this situation we think of something a little more palatable.
Admittedly, Moffat’s focus on the rules of time travel did present some interesting ideas I haven’t seen on-screen before, including what may happen to the time traveler’s body after he/she dies. Still, that world building should have been secondary to the relationship between the characters. Title cards that describe which version of Henry is interacting with Clare were somewhat helpful to keep the timeline in check, especially since each Henry has a different personality due to his life experiences. But there are still open mysteries about the world, which I assume is a set up for a second season, but actually made things more confusing. Without getting into spoilers, I am not sure I fully understand the final scenes of the season finale.
Is THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE the worst series you’re going to see this year? Absolutely not. But with all of the other great television out there, I suggest prioritizing another romantic time travel series like OUTLANDER or, better yet, check out one of my favorite shows on TV, HACKS (HBO MAX), which just returned for its second season.
My Review: C