Time travel. There's no other form of speculative scientific fiction which prompts such serious discussion and hypothetically fueled conjecture. With so many possible forms and repercussions, from the many worlds theory to the grandfather paradox, time travel has been at the center of many great works of fiction. Now, Americans finally get a taste of a show that Canadian audiences were clamoring for last spring. Continuum debuted on SyFy Monday night, depicting the world of 2077. It's a slick, technologically integrated society which felt evocative of the Mass Effect series and 1997's Gattica. It's not a far stretch to imagine the Internet woven into everything, including our own bodies, with retinal implants offering augmented reality displays, memory implants that download a police officer's daily beat to a secure server nightly, and automatic notification (through facial recognition) of possible suspects at just a glance. With a body suit that can stop bullets and change color with a tap on a built in touch screen, and a side arm which sports a holographic display, this sounds like a sure fire winner for fans of interesting speculative technology. Unfortunately, the story is uneven, failing on several levels.
As we dive into more specifics, it's important to point out that the first season has already completely aired on Canadian TV six months ago. For the purposes of this review, I'm only speculating on what is known so far, watching the episodes in order on SyFy in America, and I won't be seeking or discussing spoilers from further in the season gathered from the Internet.
The world of Continuum in 2077 is a dystopia, run by a Corporate Congress as a dictatorship. At some point between this time and our present day, the governments of the world collapsed, leaving room for corporations to assume uncontested rulership. We open on the leader (played by Tony Amendola) of terrorist group Liber8, delivering a message to the world in an effort to propel them into throwing off the yoke of corporate oppression. He's arrested as a massive explosion kills the Corporate Congress. He and seven other members of the group are set to be come the first execution in years, for in taking out the congress they also murder tens of thousands of civilians as collateral damage. However, before the execution can commence, an accomplice in the chamber activates a time travel device sending the terrorists, and one of the "protectors" (future police officer Kiera Cameron) back to 2012.
Since most of her technology is implanted, Kiera immediately begins calling for backup units to assist her pursuit of the criminals. Unaware of her temporal location, the only person who replies is a very young Alec Sadler. He's developing advance computer systems that will one day become the backbone of our entire way of life. His interactions with her are actually very interesting, as he fills the Oracle role and becomes Barbera to Kiera's Batman. Alec also becomes a sounding board for the out of time cop, who is fighting with the fact that this jump was a one way trip. At the end of the episode, we discover that the two have met before, in the future, and that a much older Alec was at the execution when the time jump occurs. It's fascinating to think that this man who runs the world would be excited by the prospect of someone going back in time to undo the roots of his power. Perhaps he's a king who has realized his system is rotten but is now unable to reverse the world's course? Or, to borrow from Battlestar Galactica a bit, perhaps he knows that all of this has happened before and will happen again. This at least will be interesting to discover.
Here is where things divulge from "could be fascinating" territory, grazing for too long in the pasture of "just kind of interesting". Rather than follow in the well respected footsteps of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, waging a future war off the grid in the present, Continuum comes at this from the angle of a police procedural. Kiera assumes the identity of an detective from Portland whom she saw on television, and works with the local police in interrogating and tracking the future fugitives. If it feels at all tired, it's because we've had decades of procedural dramas to wear thin our excitement about the prospect.
And about the freedom fighters of Liber8, who now have the chance to secretly work inside the system to avert the corporate dictatorship they know to be on the horizon, what should be their first course of action? Why, to murder cops and steal as many weapons and as much ammo as possible! They aim to start a war. Why; to what purpose? Who cares! Let's just smash the whole thing. Perhaps announcing your presence though murder and mayhem isn't the most prudent of actions, when for all intents and purposes, you don't exist in this world yet. If undoing the future is your scheme, why not seek out the the architect of that future (we're led to believe that it's Alec Sadler) and kill him before he engineers it?
It's true that most of my conjecture is coming in the dark and that some or most of these complaints may be given sufficient answer in future episodes, but your pilot is so critical in hooking an audience that your best foot has got to be out forth. Drool worthy future tech and a time travel premise can only earn a show so much nerd credit. To expect them to buy in with so much of that cred by offering something which is a combination of the lesser parts of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Caprica, and Castle is not inspiring.
I'm interested to see where this goes (and it's competently acted, edited, and shot) but hope the ride is more interesting on the next stretch of highway.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famousColonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.