What do Stargate creator Brad Wright and Eric McCormack of Will and Grace fame have in common? They’ve both brought their talents to a new sci-fi sleeper hit, Travelers. Sneaking in amongst all the time travel dramas this fall, this humble Canadian production is the best show you likely didn’t even know existed. Fortunately, even though viewers in the Great White North are almost finished with season 1 on Showcase, Netflix is distributing the show here in the states with a December 23 premiere, which leaves just enough time to speak to McCormack and Wright about the series.
The premise of Travelers is that operatives from an apocalyptic future send their consciousnesses back in time to inhabit the bodies of people just before the moment of their deaths and assume their lives and work together to avoid the disaster in the future. The show follows one of many teams working on different missions at the behest of a mysterious director who’s holding all the cards.
“What we’re left with is people in a costume essentially trying constantly to live that person’s life with very limited, as it turns out, information,” explains McCormack, who plays the head of the team in the body of FBI Agent Grant McLaren. “So their every moment in 2016 is an improv. They are constantly on their toes, and anything could give them away.”
Where do they get their flawed information about the lives they’re supposed to take over? From social media of course! Wright, who created the show and executive produces it, elaborates: “What started Travelers to begin with was I was thinking of social media in terms of what we put up there. Is it who we really are or is it a projection of what we want people to see about ourselves? And that evolved into the idea of Travelers.”
But it’s not all about the mission to avoid the purposely undefined apocalyptic future. The characters also have to figure out how to live the lives of a teenage jock, a heroin addict, a mentally challenged cleaning lady, a single mom with an abusive cop husband, and of course an FBI agent. “The show is as much if not more about that, about trying to be those people in the 21st century, as it is about the big picture of changing missions and saving the world,” says Wright.
“The interesting thing about the five people that we become in the pilot — the only thing that these people have in common — is that they all died on the same day in the same city,” McCormack asserts. “Other than that, they would not know each other. So we’re already messing with time by having these people who were supposed to have historically died continue to live, but also every time we bring the five of them together, we are creating relationships that never would have existed.”
“The series lives in those relationships,” agrees Wright, “and that’s what really makes this show unique. It’s not mission-of-the-week by any means. It’s about characters and their unique struggle in the 21st century.” Inside the heroin addict, for example, is a historian who must remember every detail of the past, and the handicapped woman must act as the team’s doctor, despite being surprised by her host’s infirmity.
“All traveler teams have a leader, have a doctor, and the historian is someone who has memorized virtually everything about that particular city in that particular period of time,” explains McCormack. “They are soldiers in a war… changing the past to change the future.”
McCormack’s character, McLaren, anchors the show as the team’s leader, keeping the team on mission, which is harder than it might seem. “The five of us have come from this very bleak future into this kind of amazing past with sunshine and food and dogs… and it gets very seductive,” McCormack says. “It’s very hard sometimes for all five to focus on the mission, and that’s McLaren’s job to remind everybody, ‘Hey this is great but it’s not why we’re here. We’re here to follow orders.’”
Following orders isn’t so easy when your director by necessity doesn’t explain all the details of the missions’ consequences. “They can’t know the big picture; they can’t know the whole thing,” Wright agrees. “In the event that they were compromised, they simply don’t know. They only know the missions they’re being told and what they need to do.”
The team begins their mission when Travelers drops on Friday, December 23, on Netflix. There are 12 episodes in season 1, and Showcase is preparing to air episode 10 on Monday, the 16th. Time to catch up to Canada!