Timeless Is One of the Most Subtly Subversive Shows on TV

We talked to Timeless star Abigail Spencer and the EPs about how the show is pushes against the cultural status quo.

Timelessis back tonight and, if you’ve yet to catch up on the feminist time travel adventure, then you’re seriously missing out. The show sees historian Lucy Preston traveling through time with scientist Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) and soldier Wyatt (Matt Lanter). During the course of its adventures, Timeless subtly pushes the status quo on who gets to be part of our narratives—both when it comes to contemporary pop culture and American history.

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The first season saw the gang visiting some of the most well-known moments in American history, but giving us insight into people—especially women and people of color—who have been largely left out of the history books and our cultural conversation. This trend will continue into Timeless Season 2, which premieres tonight.

“Before the #MeToo/#TimesUp movement started, [the writers and producers] had basically mapped out where we were going to go for this season and, this season, we only visit women or people of color,” Abigail Spencer told Den of Geek during a recent Timeless event at the New York Historical Society. “We don’t go back to visit any white men. And I’m not saying there aren’t some that flitter about in the story, but I thought that was really timely, really poignant.”

In the first season, Timeless told the stories of historical figures like black female NASA scientist Katherine Johnson (later portrayed on the big screen in Hidden Figures) and Shawnee chieftainess Nonhelema. This season, historical figures and moments to be expored include: Marie Curie, Harriet Tubman, Heddy Lamar, the Salem Witch Trials, and the Suffragette movement.

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“There’s something happening in the world,” continued Spencer. “There’s something happening where we need an overcorrection to achieve balance. Because that’s really all we’re saying: we just need to be more balanced, but we have to really be very intentional about the stories that we tell.”

Spencer said that the show is very intentional about how Lucy is portrayed, from how she dresses to what her strengths are.

“We’re very careful to not sexualize her,” said Spencer. “We want her superpower to be her brain. I’m very aware … that children watch the show, and it’s like, how nice that a family can sit down and watch a show and nobody’s worried what their kids might see or any kind of influence that would be in a negative capacity?”

For Timeless executive producer Marney Hochman, the decision to center women and/or people of color, as well as other underrepresented groups, is an inherent part of telling a historically-based show that wants to illuminate the untold angles of popular events.

“I think the show has always tried to focus on what the history books might have forgotten,” said Hochman, “or that interesting story slightly turned on its side from the story that you know and, often, that’s women and people of color because they’re not always as well recorded, but very important and true.”

“It wasn’t a decision we had to fight for or anything,” said executive producer Arika Lisanne Mittman about the even more pronounced centering of women and people of color in Season 2. “It’s sort of a natural progression of the show. I think it’s natural to our show because our show looks for those stories that maybe haven’t been told or maybe you think you know the story, but you only know part of the story. You don’t know the whole story or there’s a piece of the story you don’t know. As Marney said, those tend to be women or people of color. The stories that tend to be less told or over-simplified in the history books.”

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One of the coolest aspects of Timeless Season 2, at least from where I’m standing, is that the season’s main antagonists seem to be women. While grieving, vengeful Garcia Flynn (Goran Goran Višnjić) was the man Lucy and co. were trying to stop in Season 1, Rittenhouse loyalists Carol (Susanna Thompson), aka Lucy’s own mom, and Emma (Annie Werschling) are the baddies moving forward. It’s pretty cool to see not only two women, but two older women as a genre show’s Big Bads.

“When you talk about diversity and you talk about representation, you don’t just want good guys,” said Mittman. “You don’t just want heroes. The goal in representation is to have minorities and women and LGBT characters across the board represented in every area, you know? And villains, as well … So that’s what we’re trying to do and, yeah, we have some cool female villains this year.”

Ultimately, Timeless is a jumping off point for having deeper conversations about our country’s history and the narratives we tell about it, and how that history and those narratives continue to affect our culture’s inequalities today.

“I think it sparks an interest to just go deeper,” said Spencer. “I think when you watch Timeless, you’re like, ‘I need to go look that up!’ It’s not like, ‘Whew, I never need to read about that again!’ … Really, it just conjures conversation about historical moments. It really has for me and my son. I’m just very excited to be a part of that change. Part of taking Lucy was wanting to be an active part of changing the way that we see women on television and I think that this show does it really beautifully.”

Timeless Season 2 premieres tonight on NBC at 10 p.m. ET.