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Why Timeless Shouldn't Limit Itself to American History

There's a whole big world out there, folks

Kaitlin Thomas

In its first three weeks, Timeless has traveled to the site of the Hindenburg disaster in the 1930s, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 and the Rat Pack era of the 1960s that took a detour into the dangers of atomic weaponry. Next week the show travels to Nazi Germany, where the gang will meet spy and James Bond author Ian Fleming. Each of these episodes feature specific events from American history or are well-known time periods with direct relationships to it.

But compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. is an incredibly young country, with only a couple hundred years of "official" history to explore. Why then is Timeless limiting its heroes to traveling only to important moments from or directly related to American history? That set up feels foolish considering the wealth of world history -- without which America would cease to exist in its current state -- that's being ignored each week.


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There are a few obvious reasons, of course, like the fact the series is an American production (though the show actually films in Vancouver, British Columbia), is set in the U.S. and stars several American actors portraying American characters. Beyond the obvious basics, though, what else is keeping the show's story tethered to what amounts to little more than a few hundred years of history that may or may not influence the rest of the world by association?*

Timeless: Is Flynn really trying to save the world?

If Flynn's goal is to prevent the future actions of the mysterious group known as Rittenhouse -- and we still don't know much about either the man or the organization so anything is possible -- then maybe the latter's reach only extends so far into world politics, and jumping continents and several centuries may not have any obvious effect on present or future events. It would be a fine enough explanation, especially when the shift in U.S. influence in international affairs over the last century is considered, but it's also a fairly insular point of view that potentially paints the series in a bad light.

Human history didn't start with the birth of the United States. Yes, the U.S. is the only remaining true superpower in 2016 -- as a nation, it holds considerable influence over world events -- but the fact remains it only achieved that status within the last century. Prior to World War II, the country was merely considered a great power, on par with the United Kingdom or what was then the Soviet Union. If you go back even further, the U.S. wasn't heavily involved in international affairs because it either wasn't interested in expansion or didn't have the power and ability to get involved.

But if that really is the show's argument for keeping its heroes firmly planted within the bounds of American influence, it's not just limiting the potential scope of the show's narrative, it also has the potential to give off an unwelcome air of superiority, as if history as it relates to American prominence is the only thing worth exploring.

Timeless: Will we ever see the future?

This is problematic for a number of reasons, but the most obvious being that American history is just a blip in time compared to the long and storied histories of the rest of the world. And although it has been frequently bloody and tumultuous, and we've led the world to many technological advances in recent memory, it isn't necessarily more exciting or influential than, say, the political and social upheaval of the French Revolution in the 1790s. It isn't necessarily more important than the birth of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain during the second half of the 18th century.

Of course, that isn't also to say there aren't eras of American history that stand out as worthy of exploration. The series has already dipped its toe into the end of the Civil War, for instance, and there's also a lot to be said about the Civil Rights Movement, the counterculture of the '60s and the unrest that accompanied the Vietnam War. But when one considers everything viewers are missing out on -- or the problems that could arise if the show goes for multiple seasons -- the narrow viewpoint of Timeless may start to feel more like a burden than anything else.

So although the show is rather silly and episodes aren't meant to serve as weekly history lessons -- if it was, we'd probably be in trouble -- there's a lot to be said for the history that's being ignored. There's a lot to be learned from the Vikings and the events of the Napoleonic Era. There's a lot we can glean from different English monarchs and even the Ming Dynasty. Sure, maybe it would be a little more difficult to connect the dots to potential shifts in present day, but if the United States is a unique blend of many different cultures as men and women have immigrated to its shores, perhaps a broader approach to tackling where those ideas and concepts were born could be beneficial.

Plus, look how much fun Bill and Ted had when they traveled through time.

Timeless airs Mondays at 10/9c on NBC.

*Unless the writers are up for tackling European colonization and the history of the Native Americans who were pushed out of their lands by said colonists. That seems unlikely, though.