Continuum - A Quick Catchup
For some time, Continuum has sat just a little under our radar - it's got a decent following over the pond, but like many great American series of the last few years (Breaking Bad and Community in particular) exposure to UK viewers has been either non-existent or limited to off the track digital TV channels. Despite this, Simon Barry's creation is actually a solid, well written contemporary science fiction series that deals with time travel, paradoxes and terrorism.
The core idea is simple - a group of terrorists convicted and sentenced to death in 2077 escape their fate by using a device to travel back to their past. Arriving in 2012, they set about influencing and changing the future. However, the terrorists weren't alone in their journey through time and future-cop (or City Protective Services Agent) Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols) was also inadvertently sent back with them. Separated from her friends and family and stuck in the past, Continuum follows her attempts to stop the terrorists, known as Liber8 from achieving their aims.
The show features something of a split narrative; as we follow Kiera's troubles in our present most episodes are book-ended and interspersed with future happenings from future that add context to the interwoven story. It becomes clear early on that the changes that happen as a result of the time travelling are likely to lead to a completely different future and while right now we've not seen any evidence of this in the future segments, it's likely to become something that we begin to witness in coming stories.
At its core, however, Continuum is much more conventional - Cameron quickly finds herself a partner, Detective Carlos Fonnegra (Victor Webster), Vancouver's 2012 police force and reversing the traditional Mulder and Scully male-female pairing mixes things up just enough to add variety. Continuum does borrow somewhat from other shows and many well-worn tropes are paraded in front of the camera. In true comic book style Kiera has to cover up her true origins; she has a suit that acts as a shield (it can stop modern-day bullets); she has bionic enhancements that give her all sorts of abilities as the stories require them - she can see heat signatures when it furthers the plot, but struggles by with limited 'night vision' when hunting down her prey (and those two examples happen in the same episode).
Similarly, the Liber8 terrorists are almost a checklist of the various character traits we tend to associate with the baddies; yet despite the derivation on show early on rather than remaining ciphers, the characters are allowed to develop and their various motivations are revealed over the course of the first season ending up with splinter groups and an increasing number of factors and groups in play. Not only do we have the future Liber8 terrorists, we have another group of modern-day protesters led by Julian Randol, a budding Julian Assange in 2012, a master terrorist known as Theseus and accused of murdering thousands in 2077. Then there is the mysterious Mr Escher who seems to know a lot about the future, the freelancers who appear to be from even further in the future and Alec Saddler (Erik Knudsen/William B Davis) who is the genius behind all of the main tech of 2077 including the device that sent Kiera back to the present and who also ends up helping her out in the present. It's around Sadler that all of the main plot threads intersect.
Other than the one massive mis-step that is the 'virual reality' episode, the first season is above average stuff that quickly finds a groove. However it does seem to slip too easily into cliche and fails to offer anything of real excitement or intrigue - the Liber8 plans seem to involve carrying out a terrorist attack that was already part of future history. For the most part it all feels a bit like a sci-fi CSI. However, when the show returns for season two it really steps up - the cast are far more comfortable in their roles and unlike the previous year that felt like it was always playing it a little bit safe, we finally get to see Simon Barry exploring more outlandish ideas and layering on the mystery. Things also move at a fair pace so any questions that are posed rarely tend to remain unanswered for more than a few episodes so there's never that feeling that things are spiraling out of control or being made up on the fly, Lost-style.
As lead, Rachel Nichols, is good in the first season but really puts in a much stronger performance in the second - she'll be hot property by the time Continuum comes to an end. The rest of the cast put in their due too and the end result is some decent adult science fiction that isn't afraid to tackle difficult themes in a mature way...