“What you have to understand is that this is not a story about a time traveler. It’s the story of the time traveler’s wife.”
That would be Clare Abshire (Rose Leslie) caught in a blatant lie, for the true subject of HBO’s The Time Traveler’s Wife is the person around whom Clare’s world revolves. Directed by David Nutter, written by Steven Moffat and based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger, the series follows Henry DeTamble (Theo James) and the complicated life he leads due to a mysterious time traveling gene. Most tangled of all is Henry’s out-of-order, underdeveloped, and frankly problematic love story with his soulmate, Clare.
It’s a romance recounted by home videos, mostly starring an aged Henry and Clare looking like they just stepped out of an amateur costume party. Intended to be a representation of a lasting love story for the ages, the stylistic choice serves as little more than a gimmick to introduce the theme of each episode.
The rest of The Time Traveler’s Wife follows in this way, checking off boxes as if to say it has created a love story grand and romantic. But all the tried-and-true romance tropes in the world can’t save the hole the show has dug for itself with its very premise.
The Time Traveler’s Wife doesn’t deliver a compelling romance, and that’s largely due to its complicated timeline. With the nature of its premise, the series has to take a great deal of care to make sense of Henry and Clare’s relationship. Yet, there’s little chemistry and connection to make us root for the couple. After all–in one timeline, Henry barely knows Clare. In another? Clare is 6 years old.
The show’s set up is surely meant to illustrate the “soulmate” factor to the protagonists’ relationship–as well as the complicated nature of love. But the creators’ grand philosophical ideas about love simply don’t translate when one breaks down the show’s practical implications.
They try to wave away such issues with some self-aware “grooming” jokes. And yet, these don’t quite land as jokes when both Henry and Clare acknowledge that Clare has built her sexual palate entirely around Henry–ever since she was a child. And when the show does venture out of young Clare’s story, it’s hard to tell if the two adults ever truly love each other, or if they are simply accepting their fate.
Apart from its romance, the series makes many other promises and allusions that never quite go anywhere. Moffat and Nutter have a tendency to introduce big themes that dangle with no place in the season’s entire tapestry. The end leaves several questions unanswered, which is understandable due to the fact that Moffat planned future installments of The Time Traveler’s Wife all along. But neither do the six episodes function as one clearly defined season with its own full arcs.
The Time Traveler’s Wife conveys one thing, at least, clearly: that it strives to be a sweeping romance about the changing nature of people and the complex nature of falling in love. Really, it’s not in the least a love story. The Moffat/Nutter adaptation of Niffenegger’s beloved novel is rather a message of doom and gloom–and a bearer of empty promises.
Verdict - 4/10