Genre: Sci-fi detective thriller
Network: The CW
Premiered: October, 05, 2016
Show business is the ultimate necromancer. Its ability to dig through the media grave stones and resurrect something in a new form is great enough to make any D&D enthusiast blush in envy. Take Frequency, for example - I’m sure if someone told me at the beginning of the year, “Hey! Remember that relatively obscure time travel-ish movie from the early 2000s? Well, guess what's coming to the CW!” I would have laughed them out of the room. Nothing highlights the comically derivative and stale fester stew comprising much of entertainment media quite like a good ole' fashioned ill-fitting television remake. But Frequency surprised me; it didn't exactly knock my socks off, sure, but the intriguing detective mystery at the heart of it stands firm all on its own, even if the time-bending plot leaves you with eyes glazed over.
Detective Raimy Sullivan (Peyton Hist) of the NYPD has an ideal life from the outside: a loving mother, a respectable career, and a charming and dedicated boyfriend interested in taking their relationship further. But underneath the sparkle is a woman haunted by the death of her father twenty years ago. Officer Frank Sullivan (Riley Smith) was killed during an undercover sting gone wrong, amidst rumors of “getting in too deep,” with the end result drowning his daughter in years of pain and resentment. But one night at a family gathering in the old home, Raimy finds her father’s old ham radio and somehow gets a direct line to 1996, just days before his untimely death. After clearing the air about her unresolved issues and confirming that her father remained one of the good guy to the very end, the two cops set about making a brighter outcome this time around. And they succeed, but in the process create an even bigger personal tragedy for them both in the future. Now, father and daughter must collaborate across time and uncover the mystery they helped set into motion.
Frequency takes the conventional Sci-Butterfly effect and gives it a buddy cop feel - two genres that by this point have grown horribly sour, but in this case somehow blend together quite well. The talented actors on screen, of course, have a role in this; Peyton List portrays the tough-as-nails Raimy competently, but the real star here Riley Smith, storming in with an intuitive and believable performance as a conflicted detective just trying to make sense of a life spiraling deeper into the Twilight Zone. This gets expanded as the episodes pile on, throwing in familial conflict and probably the most realistic depiction of a family struggling to readjust to normal life after an extended sting I've ever seen. The premise sets up an intense, cat-and-mouse dynamic that's constantly in flux due to changing information from the past, which would make an otherwise dreadful and predictable plot have any number of unexpected twists and turns. But the best part for me is undeniably the music. Hearing "Wonderwall" blare up along with other alt rock favorites from the mid 90s drummed up the nostalgia beat, and really fit well with the heavy but hopeful atmosphere of the series.
Time travel is always an absolute pain to get across when the science won't cooperate; time traveling radio transmissions are even worse. Although the show admirably hand waves any attempt to explain the warped reality behind its premise, it still leaves us with a time plot that completely smashes the Good Doctor's timey-wimey ball into a convoluted pile of timey-wimey paste. It gets worse as Raimy, upon altering the time stream, can somehow remember both her old timeline, and the new one she created simultaneously - something which makes no friggin’ sense whatsoever, and gives you a prelude to an aneurism just thinking about it. It’s only a problem when it gives the characters a plot-induced touch of idiocy in order to preserve the drama - which is, unfortunately, more times than I’d like to count. This really is the show’s only weakness, but it’s a pretty damn big one if left unchecked; you can get anyone to wander through your time-induced plot maze as long as it doesn’t overwhelm them too much, but when it interferes with their ability to follow along and piece things together, we have a problem.
Raimy is a bit of a jerk with a heavy chip on her shoulder, and comes off as pretty unlikeable the first episode or two. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s a method and a reason behind all of her madness, especially considering that pretty much her entire world went to hell in a handbasket in the literal blink of an eye. It doesn’t excuse her behavior, especially her continued antagonism and disrespectful attitude towards Frank, but it does lay the groundwork for some semblance of character development - so long as the writers don’t screw it up. Likewise, I hope Frank eventually grows enough of a spine to silence Raimy when she goes on her tirades of belittlement. Much as I love his warm and confused demeanor, he takes it on the chin from her entirely too much. It’s fine for the time being, since he's dealing with an obviously bitter adult daughter who’s a perfect stranger to him in every important way, but watching him get talked down to on a constant basis will get real old, real fast.
Tune In or Tune Out?
Tune in - for now. The show’s got more than a few squeaky wheels, but it's a solid ride more or less. I really hope that this is the only season we get, since I can't imagine following this series through another time-altering adventure after this. Time will tell if the warped time plot gets too insane, but the detective mystery buried under all the sci fi fluff is decent enough to tune in for.