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From 'Timeless' to 'Quantum Leap': 9 adventurous time travel TV shows worth going back to watch
The time periods might get old, but these shows never do.
Get ready to travel back to 10,000 B.C., because the second half of La Brea's sophomore season is here. The first half of Season 2 ended with most of the main cast deciding to return to perhistoric times rather than stick around in the '80s, in the hopes that they might one day be able to return to their correct time period. And, we learned that the cause of all this time travel madness might lie in the future, in the year 2076.
The midseason premiere, which runs a full two hours and airs tonight, Jan. 31, on NBC at 9 p.m. Eastern, will only take place in the year 10,000 B.C., though, as will the rest of the season, according showrunner David Appelbaum. Even if this next string of episodes won't involve any actual time traveling, the occasion of the midseason premiere has us thinking about some of the best time travel TV shows around.
We aimed at time-travel shows that skew more toward letting us explore the past and (recent) present in new ways. So, not a lot of apocalypse action to be had here (though we definitely recommend you binge more apocalyptic/future-y fare like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, 12 Monkeys, and Continuum, too!). Instead, we’re looking at shows with more of a time-travel adventure bent focused on the far-flung or recent past.
From the biggies to deep cuts, these are some great time machines to jump into and distract yourself from reality.
If you’re looking for a wild, fun time-travel adventure, look no further than the short-lived Timeless. The series was a modest hit on NBC, inspiring a fervent fanbase, but the love wasn’t enough to extend its run past two seasons (plus an extended special to wrap up the show’s dangling storylines).
The series followed a rag-tag team of heroes as they zipped through time to different periods, trying to avert changes to the timeline and stop a mysterious cabal out to twist time to its own ends. It visited some great periods, from the Alamo to the heart of the space race in the late 1960s. It was smart, fun, and had a ton of heart.
Plus, even though the run was cut short, it actually has a true ending — so no pesky cancellation cliffhangers here.
How to watch: Hulu
02. Legends of Tomorrow
The CW’s weirdest and wildest superhero show is also one of the most ambitiously goofy time travel exploits ever attempted. The series follows a team of D-list heroes thrown together on a space ship as they fly through time to try and stop "anomalies" in the timeline (they also tackle monsters and evil escapees from Hell along the way, to boot).
The show is just silly enough to work, but features enough seriousness to really make those time travel stories resonate along the way. Even more fun, all that time travel is also infused with tons of nods to decades of DC Comics lore, so there’s something for everybody.
Meet young Obama one episode, then head back to the Wild West (with Jonah Hex!) the next.
How to watch: Netflix, The CW app
This is a time travel story that starts in the past then goes way further back, but it’s one heck of a lovely and compelling tale.
The show follows a young woman who is swept from the 1940s all the way back to the 1700s, where romance, intrigue, and fantasy all come into play. It’s a love story at its heart, while also a fascinating exploration of the differences in a life lived across the eras.
How to watch: Netflix, Starz
04. Quantum Leap
The OG, baby. This beloved late-1980s, early-1990s sci-fi series follows a man out of time, bouncing from body to body as he tries to right wrongs across the time stream.
Starring Scott Bakula as Dr. Sam Beckett, the show was smart, funny, and ahead of its time in a lot of ways. It also explored a ton of great periods in history, telling small-scale and world-shaking tales from the 1950s to the 1980s. With plenty of buzz about the reboot, it’s the perfect time to go back and enjoy those early adventures.
How to watch: Fridays on SYFY as part of SYFY Rewind.
05. Making History
There’s a decent chance you missed this one the first go ‘round, and it’d be hard to blame you. The short-lived Fox comedy was burned off with little fanfare, having its initial 13-episode order chopped down to just nine before it was canceled.
But oh, what a fun nine episodes they were.
The show followed a slacker who figures out how to travel through time and does just that with his two pals. Think Doctor Who meets Bill & Ted, kinda? It also had a surprisingly rich pedigree, produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and starring Adam Pally, Leighton Meester, and Yassir Lester.
It was clever, hilarious, and really dug into the question of what you might really do with a time machine.
Watch it on: Amazon Prime (For Purchase)
06. Doctor Who
The Doctor has been zipping around through history for longer than a lot of us have been alive and knows a thing or two about mucking around in the time stream.
Though the show often veers off into full-on sci-fi and fantasy, the time travel episodes are the meat and potatoes that make up the DNA of Doctor Who. The rotating regenerations of the Doctor have bounced everywhere from Pompeii to a trip back to hang out with Vincent van Gogh. Not to mention the fact that, if you’re looking for a very long binge, there are decades of Doctor Who going back to the early days, plus 12 seasons of the more modern run to keep you plenty busy.
Watch it on: HBO Max
07. Life On Mars (U.S.)
This one is based on a British series, but for our purposes, we’ll keep the focus on the U.S. version. The show starred Jason O’Mara as a present-day detective who wakes up in 1973 New York.
It’s a trippy, well-constructed cop and sci-fi series at its core, but more than that, it’s a compelling look at New York City in that much wilder era of the early 1970s. The vibe, the feel, the smell, even — it’s all there.
If you’re looking to disappear to the grittier, bell-bottomed world of NYC’s past, this should do the trick.
Watch it on: Amazon Prime (For Purchase)
This Stephen King-based miniseries was one of Hulu’s buzzy originals when it was still getting deeper into the original programming arena back around 2016. It follows a man, played by James Franco, who discovers the ability to travel back to the 1960s. So he takes on a mission to try and stop the assassination of JFK, forging a new life for himself in the 1960s in the hopes his efforts will make the world a better place. It also makes for an easy, concise binge, clocking in at eight episodes.
Watch it on: Hulu
This short-lived 2007 series had all the makings of a sci-fi hit, except for the ratings. But despite its short run, the show was a smart, modern-day twist on the Quantum Leap formula.
It followed a newspaper reporter who suddenly starts jumping back in time, where he realizes he needs to help tweak the lives of those he meets for the better (sound familiar). But more than that, we get to see the impact these jumps make on his own life, as he reconnects with people from his past with the perspective and knowledge of his “future” life.
Sadly, it’s a bit hard to find on streaming, but well worth it if you can track it down.
Watch it on: Full series is available on DVD.