Review by Brian Lowry, CNN
Adapted from the novel that became a not-particularly-memorable movie in 2009, “The Time Traveler’s Wife” now transforms its bizarre love story into an HBO series. Rose Leslie and Theo James star, but in keeping with the time-travel rules that state there’s no changing things or saving people, despite their heroics it’s too late to salvage this handsome but uninvolving show.
James’ Henry notes that time travel “just happens to me” at unexpected times — a “genetic defect” that causes him to fall through time, leaving him “naked, penniless and running.” He and Clare (“Game of Thrones'” Leslie) explain all this in direct-to-camera testimonials at different points in their lives, sort of like “The Office,” just with more nudity.
Indeed, James’ backside certainly gets oodles of exposure, in sometimes comical ways, as he flees the peculiar situations in which he finds himself. Yet the main gist of the series is its non-linear exploration of the arc of their relationship, which includes moments where Clare knows far more than Henry does, since the encounters she’s referencing haven’t happened to that version of him yet.
Time travel always creates all sorts of puzzling possibilities, but the way it’s employed in the context of Audrey Niffenegger’s book can be particularly off-putting when translated to the screen. At the top of that list is the fact that Clare and Henry first meet (for her, anyway) when she’s a child and he’s an adult, with him regularly blipping back to her as she grew up.
“I have loved him since I was six years old,” Clare says, and despite everything portrayed about the elaborate arc of their romance, it’s very hard to get through that subplot, as even Henry acknowledges, and not have it sound at least a bit creepy.
The main appeal stems wholly from the two stars, who not only convey the periodic absurdity of their frequently interrupted exchanges but effectively play the characters at multiple ages, which, given how often the timeframe resets, is no small feat.
Adapted by Steven Moffat, whose credits appropriately include “Doctor Who,” and prolific director David Nutter (“Game of Thrones” and much more), “Time Traveler’s Wife” is lushly presented as another sweeping love story with sci-fi overtones (“Somewhere in Time” comes to mind), complicated not by place but rather time.
It’s an admirable effort, but one that simply underscores how unadaptable this material might be — the bottom line being that if time is indeed precious, these six episodes finally feel too much like a waste of it.
“The Time Traveler’s Wife” premieres May 15 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, which, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.
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