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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Frequency kicks off a time-travel show with actual consequences

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Many of the critiques of the new show Frequency appear to stem from the fact that it is based on a 2000 Dennis Quaid movie that no one seems to remember. Full disclosure: I have not seen this movie. But I have seen a multitude of time-travel series this fall (well, two at least: Timeless and The Flash) and Frequency’s time-travel ramifications intrigue me more than any other. Maybe the new Frequency just used that film as a springboard, and then took off with that premise.

Granted, there’s a giant leap of faith: The leap that a bolt of lightning would somehow reunite a 2016 daughter with her 1996 father through a ham radio. Similar to the leaps of faith that involve Timeless’ two time machines, or The Flash’s superhero abilities (also granted through lightning), or Sam’s abilities to Quantum Leap inside of people. Hey, we’re not watching television for the realistic aspects, not even when we watch reality TV.


So, once we’re on board with the ham-radio-bridging-two-decades premise, there’s a lot to like about Frequency. Even from her days as Lucy on As The World Turns, Peyton List has been woefully underutilized: When she gets the chance to shine, with a few one-liners directed at Roger Sterling on Mad Men, or as gleefully Midas-mongering villain Golden Glider on said The Flash, she has steadfastly risen to the occasion. Here she’s a revelation as Raimy (I know), the daughter of a supposedly corrupt cop, who rediscovers her dad on the ham. List and Riley Smith have a considerable and almost disturbing amount of chemistry, since according to this time-travel twist, they’re about the same age.

But Smith also shows many more chops here than he did as Marcus, say, on Nashville. Frequency must be shot in the very worst neighborhood in Vancouver, a dim, gritty Queens stand-in with a blue and grey palette where the sun never seems to shine. As scruffy, outcast Frank, Smith blends right in, until he’s believable as not only a corrupt cop but the guy who’s been set up to look like one. Also on board: Mekhi Phifer seamlessly travels through time looking equally at home as Frank’s partner in 1996 and Raimy’s boss in 2016. And Devin Kelley easily looks like she could be Raimy’s mother in either timeline.

Some of the other characters don’t fare as well: Frequency is the third pilot I’ve seen this fall that starts out with people having/attempting to have sex (Notorious and Designated Survivor are the other two), but Raimy’s tame Brit fiancé (Daniel Bonjour) hardly seems worthy of her badassery. Her comic relief childhood friend Gordo (Lenny Jacobson) will hopefully get funnier as the series progresses. But since the series lies primarily on List and Smith anyway, with their surprisingly effective ham banter and baseball chatter (“Queens! You’re killing me!”), the two ably have enough chemistry to carry us through what looks to be a fairly complicated plot.

Because while other time travel shows hinge on one personal event (Flash), or many massive historic ones (Timeless, Legends Of Tomorrow), Frequency refreshingly takes us back to the Bill And Ted days of time travel. If you learn your life may be in danger on a certain day by a certain warehouse, you stash a gun, just like Ted stole his dad’s keys for later. Like those other two TV shows, Frequency’s machinations also have the result of losing our lead a family member, but in the last few moments of this episode, the show sets up that Raimy and the now-hospital-bound Frank might even be able to prevent that from happening. It’s the best kind of time travel string-pulling, where the effects are both emotional and life-altering, and not just a chance for a showy splash on a CGI screen.


So when young Raimy carries in the ham radio to Frank, by that point, I was completely on board. I don’t really care if she hooks up with forgettable British guy again. The dual memory lines are confusing, but I assume we’ll revisit those. I still can’t wait to see how these two will work together across time to help prevent this next Nightingale murder. At the end of the pilot, I was already hooked for the season, which I can say about very few other premieres this year. Well played, Frequency.

Stray observations

  • Welcome to Frequency weekly reviews! I look forward to hanging out with you guys every week to discuss rampant time-travel speculation in the comments.
  • Granted, I am a bit of a radio fan.
  • The year-appropriate touches are appreciated on this show: Nothing screams the ’90s like Oasis.
  • I also appreciate the immediate flashbacks to 1996 so that we can figure out who all the players are. Have to say I’m more interested in the Nightingale case than this Little J/fake sting business, however.
  • In Raimy’s new reality, Gordo wears a wedding ring: Who is he married to?
  • I will try to watch the Dennis Quaid movie before next week, promise.