Mar 6, 2017

Channel Surfing: Making History - "Pilot"

Scene from Making History
Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
This past weekend marked a strange moment in pop culture. On Sunday night, two staggeringly different shows about pop culture premiered. ABC's Time After Time looks to be a more traditional approach that involves interwoven stories and drama. Meanwhile, Fox launched a half hour comedy called Making History, which focuses around two friends who travel through time - to do what isn't exactly clear. Seeing as it is a comedy, it makes sense that the premise is comical, including the time machine being a duffel bag. Everything else about it adds up to crazy hi-jinks that one would expect from two rapidly different cultures overlapping for some mishaps.
On principle, Making History isn't a terrible idea for a show. Time travel is a genre that has given a lot of great fodder, if just to explain how different cultures relate to each other centuries apart. However, there's something hollow about this new show that doesn't feel as problematic in other circumstances. Most of the jokes from the first episode have little to do with the fish out of water scenario, and more to do with pop culture references that only seem out of place if you know what they are. In theory, this isn't a terrible subset of jokes that could be used to propel this story, but it feels like the driving force of the series and doesn't allow for much depth beyond prototypical nerd humor.
For instance, when the two friends travel back in time, one of them pitches woo to an unsuspecting woman with lyrics to Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On." The joke is funny, but undermined when the other observes this statement. While there's some effective humor that explores racial division of the past, the other jokes are meant to reflect someone who grew up with pop culture being forced to use their wits as they face historical situations. The only issue is that their wit is pretty much references. There's not really a joke there other than that a reference was cleverly woven into the plot.
With that said, the first episode doesn't provide much in the way of an exciting plot. All that it really does provide is an introduction to these characters, who aren't that interesting to begin with. This high concept series suggests that its target audience will laugh at jokes where funny words are used to compensate for their lack of historical knowledge. It's not a terrible idea, given that the characters aren't particularly versed in anything older than 30 years. Yet it then raises the question of why this show needs to exist at all. Maybe there will be laughs when the culture shock goes the other way and the people from the past are introduced to their new setting.
Whatever the case may be, Making History does little to initially set itself apart from all of the other comedies of the young 2017. The only hope is that the chemistry and writing of the show continues to improve over time and that this becomes a novelty series where they go on wacky adventures on a weekly basis. The show just needs to have more of a focus and goal that exists beyond the familiar shtick of saying references for the sake of a punchline. There's more to jokes than that. So far, the series doesn't have much in the way of compelling proof against that.

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