It’s 2007. A San Francisco reporter and loving family man is having a strange day. When Dan (Kevin McKidd) arrives at a restaurant to meet his wife for their anniversary dinner, a football game from 8 years earlier is playing on television. Then he wakes up in a cab, disoriented, but continues with his evening. The next morning, he wakes up in Golden Gate Park. He goes to his house to find a strange man living there. It’s 1987. His wife wakes up to find him missing, and his brother, a cop, hasn’t heard from him.
Time travel into the recent past is always fun, since we get to enjoy laughing about old music (10,000 Maniacs, anyone?), movies (Less Than Zero) and, of course, technology (giant, bricklike mobile phones). In Journeyman, however, the laughs are few, as eerie lighting and music build a sense of foreboding. Dan saves the life of a man about to let himself be hit by a streetcar. He continues to suspect that it’s all a dream. You can feel his fear when he returns to his wife to learn that he has been away for two days, and his wife’s as she wonders where he’s been.
Soon, our traveler is off again. He is in a car accident and disappears from the scene. (Something similar happened this season on Fringe.) He always seems to stay in San Francisco, although he pops up in various locations. There is no immediately visible pattern. People seem to be the unifying factors: Neil, the guy whose life he saved and Olivia (Moon Bloodgood), an ex-girlfriend.
Little details are introduced gradually, leaving the viewer to enjoy the mystery as it unfolds. In a show where the main character doesn’t know what’s going on, it’s more fun if the audience is just as lost. We’re also learning the character’s past. His wife used to date his brother. His girlfriend died in a plane crash. You share his frustration in the fact that he never knows when he will pop back in time, or where (when) he will land. And think what it would be like if you had to exist pre-internet now that you’re dependent on it for so many things.
The pilot brings more questions than answers; like, what if Dan talks to himself in the past? Or prevents the conception of his son? And if he sleeps with his old girlfriend, is that cheating?
This is the kind of stuff that will keep a viewer watching. You would think. Apparently, not too many people did keep watching, though, as the show only lasted 13 episodes.
The pilot comes to a satisfying conclusion. We learn, if not why Dan has been selected for this mission, at least what this group of journeys was meant to accomplish. He causes the death of the guy who he first saved, preventing that guy from killing his son, who grows up to save eight lives in a bus crash. So it looks like he is going to be evening out the balance between life and death, and possibly, finding out what really happened to Olivia. There’s a kind of feel-good ending where Dan promises his wife, “I’ll always come home.” The line sets the stage for a series of similar adventures.