A cop drama and a time-travel series walk into a CW show. Their love child is “Frequency,” adorned with flashback sequences, conveniently unsolved mysteries and the unsettling feeling that the drama unfolding on screen has been done many times before.
Raimy Sullivan (Peyton List, “Mad Men”) is a detective for the NYPD, the same department her father Frank Sullivan (Riley Smith, “Nashville”) worked for 20 years ago, before he was killed on the job. Led to believe that her father turned dirty during his time undercover, Raimy has resented him ever since he passed away. However, on Raimy’s 28th birthday, by some miraculous and unquestioned stroke of luck, a lightning bolt zaps her father’s old ham radio into a time-traveling communication machine. But here’s the hook: the radio taps 20 years into the past, the day before Frank is supposed to die.
Raimy naturally tries to save her father from a death that she knows is coming for him. But, as any viewer who has seen even one of the million variations of this storyline can tell you, altering events in the past will likely lead to a future that nobody ever wanted. “Frequency” relies on this cliché, which plagues most time travel fantasies: messing with events in the past will have unpredictable repercussions on the future. Logically, this makes sense, but this paradox is so ubiquitous in the time travel genre that the series feels like just another drama centered around the unforeseen consequences.
Time-travel stories open up room for discrepancies and inexplicable coincidence. While some choose to go into the nitty-gritty of the hows and whys, “Frequency” fails to delve into the pragmatics of its mystical forces. The series doesn’t take time to explain why a lightning bolt sends a radio back exactly 20 years in time, nor does it seem like the question will be explored as the show progresses. Instead, the audience is supposed to accept the ham-radio-turned-magic-machine without questions or hesitations. Furthermore, as time catches up with Raimy, she is able to remember the regular, un-altered timeline as well as the version where she warns her father about his death. However, she is unable to keep the two realities straight, confusing one with the other and struggling to distinguish which one is the current truth. As Raimy continues to alter time, trying to undo each unwanted ramification, the conflicting timelines will inevitably become so tangled that even the audience won’t be able to keep things straight.
The law enforcement element makes a somewhat jarring appearance in the pilot, because in case anyone forgot, the series is about a cop. Somewhat abruptly, the show also introduces a villain in the form of a serial killer, whose case will likely unfold in the episodes to come.
However close “Frequency” comes to turning into a cliché, Peyton List is wonderful on screen. She gives Raimy a grounded strength often missing from female characters with stereotypically masculine professions and exhibits an emotional maturity welcome in a father-daughter story. In just a 42-minute pilot, List delivers a performance that sets up her character to be relatable and sympathetic to the audience.
Maybe if time travel were possible, there would be enough hours in the day to watch mediocre television. But, since a magic lightning bolt hasn’t hit our TVs, “Frequency” is neither original nor enticing enough to make the cut.