Time travel is one aspect of science fiction that has long since crossed over into mainstream entertainment. The masses may not understand the physics of warp speed or the language of Klingons, but everyone wants a do over. From Back to the Future and Bill and Ted to Quantum Leap, film and television have explored the opportunities one would have to right past wrongs if only we could go back in time.
This fall, NBC's Journeyman asks a man to make impossible choices and sacrifices given the ability to travel back in time. Dan Vassar (Kevin McKidd) has a family in the present, but when he starts mysteriously traveling into the past, he encounters his first love who later died in an airplane crash. But before he can tackle that dilemma, he'll have to explain his mysterious disappearances from the present.
The Journeyman situation is not even specifically time travel. It is only the show's chosen device to explore the age old "what if" question. "I loved Sliding Doors," said McKidd. "It's more like movies like Jacob's Ladder that I respond to, ones that are about imagination, give you kind of strange perceptions of what was real and what isn't. It's less about time travel. I'm just really attracted to stories that you sit as an audience and you question, like Donnie Darko and Jacob's Ladder and movies like that. That's what I like about this show. I think it sets up a dialogue and a debate with an audience that's fun."
After Rome ended its run on HBO, McKidd almost had to do another series. "I wasn't really looking actively but there was so much heat on Rome this season, it seemed almost like I'd be stupid to look a gift horse in the mouth because there was a lot of interest in me to play a lead in a show. I'm an actor and I like to work. So in a way, it would be like I'd be biting off my nose to spite my face if I kind of walked away from that. This is the first pilot season I've ever been involved in."
Journeyman gives McKidd two jobs in one. He plays Dan in both past and present. "That's the tough acting problem is that you have to wear different hats and be young Dan and be traveling Dan and be Dan incognito but that again is the challenge of this part. It's not a standard procedural show where the plot goes in one direction and that's it. It gives me as an actor a lot more interest. You see sometimes actors kind of switching off when they're in long running TV shows. I don't think this show, that's going to happen."
Already in the first episode, Dan must resist temptation to make love to his past fiancé, knowing that he is remarried in the present. Dan remains loyal to his wife but that may be a difficult morality to maintain as he keeps jumping into the past.
"I think that's the drama. There's the tension is that he's really on a fence between these two women, these two lives. And he has a kid. He has a responsibility to a kid and he's a good guy so what are you going to do? He's going to be true to his wife and his child and he's not going to betray them. But he has feelings and he's human."
Time travel can't be all gravitas and pathos. Journeyman will also explore the things Dan can safely manipulate in the past. "There's going to be a lot of irreverence in the show in the fact that this guy is traveling back to the '90s with his own knowledge of what happens in the future. There's a lot of fun aspects that he can get into."
The rules of Journeyman are still being established. Dan is gone in the present for as much time as he spends in the past. He can bring back with him anything that he is holding when he travels. However, there are many more rules to be determined, including what causes him to leap back in the first place.
"The only rule that [creator] Kevin Falls has told me is that he can only travel back in his own lifetime. He can travel back to the moment of his own birth and witness that but that's as far back as he can go."
Even the question of future travel has yet to be decided. "There's a question mark over that. I think you should ask Kevin Falls that."
Playing Dan in the '90s has given the British actor a new perspective on American culture. "Oh man, those pants. Let me tell you, those pants you guys wore in the '90s, you know the ones that were like high waisted up to your belly button, that never got to Britain, those pants. And I understand why because they're so unflattering. They're horrible. It's funny, some of the clothes I'm put in, I feel like I'm Joey on Friends. I keep singing the Friends theme tune whenever I put some of that gear on."
McKidd has moved to Los Angeles with his wife and children. In his love life, time was on his side. "I met my wife and the day that I met her, I knew I was going to marry her. Two weeks later I asked her to marry me and she said yes. I just met her at a party random, in London one Christmas Eve. I think that's again why I love this show. It's a destiny drama. It's kind of a mystery drama about this guy's love and his passion and where he's going. There's forks in the road, like that movie Sliding Doors in a way. It's got elements of that, about what choice do you make if you get a choice to go back and change things that happened in your life?"
So far, the McKidds have had an easy transition to America. "My kids are young so it's like a big adventure to them. And the sun, it hasn't stopped raining for six weeks in England. Half of England's flooded so it's like this is awesome for them."
A soccer fan (they call it football), McKidd's biggest challenge will be finding a way to keep up with the games. Soccer viewing is limited in America and will require him to brave a sort of real life time dilemma.
"There's a couple of ex-pat[riot] pubs that open up at 4AM so you can go down there. You basically have to stay up all night so I may go down there before I go to work, before I start filming because that’s when they play. I think there's one in Century City so it's pretty close to the studio."
Journeyman airs Mondays at 10PM on NBC.