Time travel shows that use innocuous items to send their users years into the past are my beat here on Popshifter. The new FOX mid-season comedy Making History, though, is a very rare example of a network series that takes a cable concept (in this case, Comedy Central) and does nearly every part of it better by fully fleshing out and committing to its characters and their relationships, rather than watering them down in order to get to their next joke.
Making History is about Dan (Adam Pally of Happy Endings and The Mindy Project), a scatterbrained, bumbling university professor who discovers a time machine, in the form of an enormous duffel bag, among his late father’s possessions.
At the beginning of the series, we learn that Dan has been travelling back to colonial times on a regular basis (“every weekend, and sometimes Tuesdays”), and has become popular among the locals. After falling in love with Paul Revere’s woke badass of a daughter Deborah (Leighton Meester of Gossip Girl), though, he alters the course of history and prevents the American Revolution from happening. The reveal of this is pretty great, as Dan goes into hysterics at the existence of fish and chips and a tea special at Starbucks as proof of the British takeover of the US.
To fix the future, Dan enlists the help of strait-laced history professor Chris (Yassir Lester of Key and Peele), and their uneasy relationship forms the backbone of the show. The effusive but prudish Chris is the perfect foil for laid-back Dan and the wide-eyed Deborah and is my favorite part of each of the four episodes I’ve seen. The growing realization that the time period and historical figures that he’s dedicated his life to are gross in nearly every way is the source of a ton of laughs, especially in the first two episodes.
The relationship between Dan and Deborah is uncompromisingly sweet, and there’s a feeling of genuine affection between them. It’s also an avenue to explore Dan’s motivations for traveling into the past with such regularity, as it’s made clear early on that Dan feels more important and valued in the 1700s. Deborah, especially, is entranced by Dan’s knowledge and smoothness, even if it’s singing her a Céline Dion song he claims to have written.
Based on what I’ve seen in those four episodes, Making History is structured around short, two-episode arcs that get fully resolved before moving onto the next. This keeps the stories fresh while allowing for characters like John Hancock (Jonathan Gemberling of Broad City) and Samuel Adams (Neil Casey of Ghostbusters) to get some more development than they might have in single episode scenarios. Al Capone gets similar treatment in the third and fourth episodes, revealing a more layered (some might say needy) portrayal than you might expect from a ruthless gangster.
The most interesting things about time travel stories, for me, are the possibilities for alternate timelines when someone screws up past events. Marty and Doc’s paradoxes in Back to the Future, the mind-bending parallel timelines in Shane Carruth’s Primer, and even the temporal fuckery in other FOX projects like Fringe and X-Men: Days of Future Past are all favorites of mine. Making History gleefully revels in these paradoxes, and has its characters mess about with the past at every opportunity. The show plays it pretty fast and loose with the “rules” of time travel, which usually have the effect of bogging down stories like this, and I think it’s ultimately for the better. With a strong supporting cast, a great concept, and strong writing, I hope Making History sticks around for a long time to come.
Making History premieres on Sunday, March 5 at 8:30pm on FOX. The first four episodes were kindly provided to us for review purposes.