The world is a very different place than it was just a couple of months ago, to the point it can sometimes be hard to remember “normal” as we slowly come to grips with this new normal in the wake of the coronavirus. But ... what if we could just go back in time to a pre-pandemic world? Yeah, we have a few TV shows that could help with that.
As pretty much everyone stays inside to limit social interaction and slow the spread of the virus, folks are putting streaming services through their paces and bingeing a whole bunch of TV shows and movies. If you’ve already gorged on comfort viewing and worked to keep your mind sharp with some high-concept television, we have your next binge queue ready: Revisiting a more normal world with the help of time-traveling spaceships, body-hopping, and an old gym bag (yes, really).
We’ve pulled together a list of some excellent 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.
Timeless - A Hollywood Love Story (Episode Highlight)
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.
Stream It On: Hulu
DC's Legends of Tomorrow | Time Is Weird | Season Trailer | The CW
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.
Stream It On: Netflix, The CW app
OUTLANDER - Season 1 Trailer
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.
Stream It On: Netflix, Starz
Quantum Leap - The Longest Leap | NBC Classics
The OG, baby. This beloved late-1980s, early-1990s sci-fi series followed 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 lingering buzz about a possible reboot, it’s the perfect time to go back and enjoy those early adventures.
Stream It On: NBC.com
Making History (FOX) "Traveling Back In Time For A Girlfriend" Promo HD - Leighton Meester comedy
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.
Stream It On:: Amazon Prime (For Purchase)
The Best of the Eleventh Doctor | 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 busy until the coronavirus is just a memory in the data banks.
Stream It On: Coming to HBO Max. Available on most live TV services or Amazon Prime for purchase.
Sneak Peak!! Check out the series premiere of Life on Mars!
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.
Stream 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.
Stream 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.
Stream It On: Sadly, nowhere. But the full series is available on DVD.