Frequency review time travel thriller is surprise small screen winner

A remake of the 2000 Dennis Quaid sci-fi thriller manages to remain exciting and original, despite its dusty heritage

The two biggest trends of the 2016 television season are remakes (Lethal Weapon, MacGyver, The Exorcist) and time travel shows (Timeless, the upcoming Time After Time and Making History). It would seem that Frequency is the conflation of these two separate threads, but hardly anyone remembers the 2000 Dennis Quaid movie that the series is based on and no one actually travels through time. They just talk about it on the radio. Maybe its because it has both of these traits or maybe because it doesnt really have either that Frequency is the best of either bunch.

The concept, at first, seems totally stupid. In 2016, NYPD cop Raimy Sullivan (Peyton List) is celebrating her 28th birthday when her fiance (Daniel Bonjour) discovers her fathers old ham radio in the garage. For all of you millennials out there, ham radio was like WhatsApp but if you only talked to strangers using only your voice. Anyway, the radio tower is hit by lightning and suddenly Raimy is using the radio to talk to her father, Frank (Riley Smith), an undercover NYPD cop who was killed in 1996. With her assistance, he manages to avoid being killed which, of course, leads to disastrous unintended consequences with the timeline. (That damned timeline is so fragile, why would anyone ever bother with traveling through time?)

With a concept like that, its no wonder that the movie never became a hit, but there is something that happens in this pilot that suggests there might be some spark of genius in Frequency. Maybe its the parallel plot structure, where Raimy and Frank each have their own individual storylines but are also trying to solve a case in tandem over the gulf of 20 years. Maybe its that both performers are quite good at imbuing rather stock characters with complex and moving motivations. Maybe its the economy of the storytelling, which not only packs in tons of setup and exposition but also a few great action sequences all into 60 tense minutes. Well, really 60 minutes and 20 years, if were counting.

Wisely the television show has made some crucial changes from the movie. Rather than going from the late 90s to the late 60s, this goes from present day to the late 90s, which gives the music supervisor the opportunity to dust off Wonderwall, a song that never really needs to be heard again. Also it changes the relationship from one between a father and son (which has been explored to death in TV and movies) to one between a father and daughter, which seems fresher and also more fraught with emotional possibilities. Sadly it keeps the ongoing storyline of a serial killer. Network television needs another serial killer like cable needs another comedy about awful people living in LA.

Somehow, against all odds, Frequency seems to click. It must be some special magic thanks to creator Jeremy Carver, who has kept Supernatural on the air seemingly since Wonderwall was still in the top 40 (OK, really since 2005.) He realizes what makes for great television is really good characters put in emotionally troubling situations. Here he achieves it with a ham radio, two cops, and a whole host of family angst and regret. That is really what is at the heart of this show.

Whereas most of the other remakes have winks at their source material driving them and most time travel shows have the knottiness of sci-fi adventures, what makes Frequency stand out is that it is really a family drama with time travel tacked on. This show might seem like a bad idea, but tune into its frequency and you might be surprised at how much it resonates.

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