Back in 2000, the Gregory Hoblit movie “Frequency” opened to strong box-office and generally upbeat reviews. Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel played father and son crossing time via ham radio to perform gymnastics of weather, time and space — and of course gain the joy of a moving emotional closure.
The CW is performing its own time-travel experiment (one of several in a nostalgia-crowded season), using Hoblit’s thriller as the source of a flawed but watchable small-screen reimagining of the original film. “Frequency” the series revels in the fanciful liberties of leapfrogging time, just as the movie did. But the producers and creator Jeremy Carver have deftly retrofitted a familiar film for the small screen with smart present-day touches and solid performances. Now if they can just do something about the weather.
Raimy Sullivan (Peyton List) is an NYPD detective, a by-the-book cop who harbors a private bitterness, never quite forgiving her father, Frank Sullivan, for being involved in corruption as an undercover detective. He was killed on the job in 1996, two days after Raimy’s eighth birthday.
One day, Raimy’s fiancé Daniel (Daniel Bonjour) discovers a ham radio in the garage of her family home — a radio that Raimy had secreted away years earlier, hoping to forget. On the dark and stormy night that happens to be her 28th birthday, a bolt of lightning (product of an electrical storm) hits the radio antenna and, soon enough, Raimy’s patched into the past — the voice of her father from back in 1996.
But a little knowledge can be a painful thing: Raimy 2016 knows things that Frank 1996 doesn’t know — like the outcome of the World Series … or the fact that he would die the following day on the job. She alerts her father to what’s coming and, lo and behold, he survives the attempted murder — changing the course of everything to come.
The pilot, written by Jeremy Carver (one of the defining writers of The CW’s “Supernatural” and a showrunner for Syfy’s “Being Human”), generates novel interplay between back then and right now. Stan Morano (Anthony Ruivivar), the corrupt detective who sent Frank on the undercover assignment that almost gets him killed in ’96, is a deputy chief today. And Frank’s one-time partner, detective Satch Rayna (the always-reliable Mekhi Phifer), is now Raimy’s boss.
This enigma of a personal drama is neatly wrapped around the mystery of a serial killer hailing from the ’90’s and presumably still at large.
The game of time tag goes on: All of a sudden, because of what she told her father, Frank wasn’t murdered but died in a car accident in 2011; her mother didn’t live to the current day but was murdered by the serial killer; and her fiancé isn’t even her fiancé anymore. The timeline of her life is thoroughly disrupted, a case of unintended consequences that maybe only Einstein could understand, unless and until she puts things back the way they were.
You watch that already willing to suspend your disbelief (that’s why you’re watching The CW in the first place). “Frequency” puts some strain on that willingness, even as the show invokes “the butterfly effect” — the idea that seemingly minor causes can have tremendous effects — to explain what’s happening. But there’s that one unpredictable element that’s easy to spot, if not to work around dramatically.
In the pilot, we’re led to believe that it was a weather event — a lightning strike that snakes its way down the antenna of that garage and into the radio — that makes the ham-radio transmission possible. If that’s true, how do they keep speaking on the radio long after that bad weather’s passed?
Resolving that seeming anomaly, not of space and time but of catalyst and subsequent story, will make the difference in how well this deserving series charts its future.
There’s much to recommend. As the emotionally wounded detective, Peyton List (“The Tomorrow People”) moves believably between the love for her father and rage at his absence in her formative years; it makes for a complex portrayal that deserves exploration. Riley Smith is winning as Frank, the cocky, Queens-born detective father. The pilot shows off sharp production values and the brisk pacing of the thriller that birthed it.
Carver has said the “Frequency” team has three seasons of storylines ready right now, so no doubt the loose ends in the pilot will be thoroughly connected. “Frequency” is in CW’s sweet spot of viewers, and its origins in an earlier film era may pique the interest of fans of the era of the original film. “Frequency” the series shows The CW hopes to make lightning strike twice. With Carver at the helm, this show’s got a shot at doing just that.