The allure of rewriting history was one of this TV season’s popular themes even before the November election, with a pair of time-travel shows (“Timeless,” “Frequency”) premiering in the fall. By happenstance two more arrive on Sunday, with “Time After Time” and “Making History” exhibiting mild promise, even if the whole mini-genre already feels as if it’s living on borrowed time.
“Time After Time” has the showier premise, adapted from a 1979 movie about “The Time Machine” author H.G. Wells having actually created such a transport, using it to pursue Jack the Ripper into the present day.
This being ABC, both principals have received hunky upgrades. It’s 1893 when Wells (Freddie Stroma, the British bachelor in Lifetime’s “UnReal”) proudly unveils his creation to a group of friends — one of whom, unfortunately, is Dr. John Stevenson (“Revenge’s” Josh Bowman), who happens to be the bloodthirsty Jack.
With Scotland Yard on his tail, Jack escapes into 2017, a time he finds almost intoxicatingly suited to his appetites. It’s a little more overwhelming to Wells, who receives help from an initially skeptical museum curator (Genesis Rodriguez).
The two-hour premiere dutifully sets up the premise, with Wells (conveniently landing in New York) agog over the modern sights of Time Square, and shaken by how his utopian dreams failed to materialize. “What are you, in ‘Les Miz?'” someone asks him, appraising his clothes.
Yet even with some elaborate new wrinkles, before it’s over the launch betrays the inherent challenge in teasing out this sort of murderous cat-and-mouse game.
While the pilot script is credited to Nicholas Meyer, who wrote and directed the original film, the series is produced of Kevin Williamson and Marcos Siega. That duo previously collaborated on another serial-killer series, “The Following,” which started well and ran off the rails.
“One must be careful not to disrupt the very fabric of time,” Wells says, explaining time travel’s potential unintended consequences. It’s an admonishment that similarly applies to such dramatic constructs, and why the clock on how long “Time After Time” can sustain interest already appears to be ticking.
“Making History,” by contrast, is the comedy version of this premise, with Dan (“Happy Endings'” Adam Pally) — the facilities manager at a small college — having stumbled upon his own quirky time conveyance, which lets him zap back to earlier periods.
In fact, he’s been regularly visiting the Revolutionary War era, where he amusingly uses his future knowledge (including quotations from popular songs) to woo a lovely lass (“Gossip Girl’s” Leighton Meester) and establish himself as a heck of a guy, roundly liked by all.
“Sometimes I use things from the future to make them like me more here,” he admits to his pal Chris (Yassir Lester), an understandably stunned history professor.
Two later episodes previewed involve going back to Prohibition and encountering Al Capone, opening up the concept to brief visits to various chapters in history. But the show also toys with the prospect of messing up the timeline, albeit more in the service of comedic effect than the butterfly variety.
Produced by the team responsible for Fox’s “The Last Man on Earth” and created by a “Family Guy” alum, the series has fun with anachronisms, from Meester’s character saying “Who else would talk politics with a woman?” to a sly message about just how much Americans love their guns. Oh, and Sam Adams and John Hancock? Turns out they were kind of immature jerks.
As the lone comedy of the bunch, “Making History” feels like the more expansive concept, with the latitude to drop its central trio into a variety of settings. That’s especially true if it can continue wryly using the past to effectively comment on the present.
Both shows actually have enough to recommend them to merit a look, with the disclaimer that the future in terms of their long-term appeal looks extremely murky.
“Making History” and “Time After Time” premiere March 5 at 8:30 and 9 p.m., respectively, on Fox and ABC.