Review: ‘Making History’ Pilot Comically Turns Back Time

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Television’s obsession with time-travel is reminiscent of the mid-2000s vampire craze. Time travel shows are a dime a dozen: ABC’s Time After Time, Starz’s Outlander, NBC’s Timeless, Syfy’s 12 Monkeys, CW’s Frequency and now with Fox’s Making Historyprimetime is completely inundated. If art does, in fact, reflect life, then it is possible that fast-forwarding, looking back or timing out all together have gained popularity as escapist responses to the current socio-political ambivalence hanging over many parts of the world. Or maybe writers are just running out of ideas.

Fox’s latest sitcom follows a gang of three unlikely friends on various century-hopping journeys by way of an oversized duffel bag tricked out with flux capacitor-esque furnishings.

Dan, played by Adam Pally, uses his oversized duffle bag to travel through time
Dan, played by Adam Pally, uses his oversized duffle bag to travel through time

Dan, played by Adam Pally (Happy Endings), is a facilities manager at a fictional college set in Boston. He teams up with Chris (Yassir Lester), a high-strung history professor, early on in the show’s pilot. Chris hesitantly agrees to help Dan correct a few mistakes he made in the past that have had butterfly-effect consequences on the future. Dan’s relationship with his 1770s love interest Deborah (Leighton Meester), causes her disapproving father – who just so happens to be Paul Revere – to cancel his midnight ride and the subsequent American Revolution is thus halted. The result imagines a present where Starbucks is a tea franchise and American college students opt for British staples like fish and chips for lunch.

The writing attempts to comically clash Dan’s schlub-ish demeanor and devil-may-care attitude with Chris’s uptight, type-A personality – a classic archetypal Pinky & The Brain, Abbott and Costello dynamic and perhaps a conscious departure from ditzy duo predecessors like Bill & Ted.

The tone of the show’s humor struggles to find the same sweet spot that its writer/creator, Julius Sharpe, nailed while scribing for Family Guy. Scenes where contemporary pop culture is called on – Dan crooning Céline Dion lyrics to Deborah or a Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money!” call-to-arms meant to rouse pub-goers into revolution – are palpably corny. Another, where Chris is pranked into drinking John Hancock’s pee out of a chamber pot is the sort of stupid crack viewers over the age of twelve will not find amusing.

That being said, excluding those misses, the jokes are generally funny and the characters are likable. Social commentary regarding the second amendment and the many issues surrounding gun law are tied in with clever ease. It is only when Dan convinces the colonists that the British want to take their guns that they are galvanized to take action. The witty banter and bickering akin to Monty Python over gun ownership and other issues still hotly debated in contemporary society merge the past with the present.

Meester's scene stealing delivery is comedic gold / Making History
Meester’s scene stealing delivery is comedic gold

Meester’s portrayal of a progressive, badass proto-feminist is a definite highlight. Meester, an untrained comedian, steals scenes from her seasoned improv club co-stars, with hilarious, well-timed deliveries. What’s more, her ability to play an earnest and kind character with a temperament directly opposite of the devious role she made iconic as Blair Waldorf on the CW’s Gossip Girl is a testament to her range as an actor. We have seen and laughed with characters like Dan and Chris before, but Deborah brings something new to the table and might just be exactly what Making History needs to make its mark.

The series airs Sundays 8:30/7:30c on Fox.

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