The CW continues television’s reboot / adaptation trend with FREQUENCY. Based on the 2000 film of the same name, FREQUENCY finds a police officer, Raimy Sullivan, communicating with her long-dead father through a ham radio. When Raimy tries to change the past and save his life, the consequences spin out in a butterfly effect, and she soon has a litany of other problems to deal with.
If one wasn’t aware of the plot of the film, one might think, based on the beginning of the pilot, that this is going to be your typical cop show. Being a TV reviewer and having to watch hundreds of shows every year, I have gotten very tired of the repetitive formula that pervades so much of broadcast network programming. Thus, I was already well on my way to tuning it out when the twists started to occur. If you’re like me and pretty much done with that genre, hang in there, because FREQUENCY doesn’t stay in it too long.
Instead, we’re getting a relatively straight-forward mystery that soon becomes convoluted through changes in the timeline. It won’t surprise you to learn (and this is spoiled on Wikipedia and in press materials) that Raimy (Peyton List, Mad Men, The Tomorrow People) manages to stop daddy Frank (Riley Smith, Nashville, The Messengers) from dying. Which Raimy barely has time to be glad about before her mother, Julie (Devin Kelley, Resurrection), disappears, having been taken out by a serial killer in the new narrative. How is the serial killer connected to Frank’s death? Assuming Frank isn’t the killer, which seems unlikely, we don’t yet know.
This is an intriguing question, to be sure, and one that promises to get more tricky as time goes on. The format of FREQUENCY looks to be that Raimy and Frank will have to work together across time to keep making their lives and their loved ones’ lives better, but every time they achieve that in some way, there will be a backslide. Thus, things will continue to get messy, and a happy ending will be a long way off.
There are a few interesting decisions FREQUENCY makes that I’m not sure every version of this story would choose. Frank is still dead in 2016, albeit from a different cause quite a bit later in life, so they can’t be side by side, nor, given the second cause of his passing, is this likely to change over the course of the show (at least not until the end), keeping Frank and Raimy ever separate. Raimy gets to retain her memories of both timelines, though no one else does. And adult characters, including Frank’s pal Satch (Mekhi Phifer, ER) and co-worker Stan (Anthony Ruivivar, Banshee), are played by the same actors in both time frames, set twenty years apart. (Raimy, being an eight-year-old child in 1996, obviously isn’t List in the past, nor is her pal, Gordo, likely to be Nurse Jackie’s Lenny Jacobson in both.)
This last element is something I’m in favor of in general; twenty years is a long time, but also not super long in the scheme of things, and the looks of two different individuals were likely to be too far apart. The problem with it here is that the CW doesn’t exactly give a huge budget to their shows, so the aging makeup and hair coloring isn’t all that great. It is easy to spot early on that Julie is played by a much younger actress than the character’s 2016 age. Which I guess makes sense, given it would be easier to add years than take them away. But it doesn’t quite look authentic.
What will probably keep me from being a total fan of FREQUENCY is that it does seem to rely a little too heavily on the cop show format, despite the great sci-fi elements, and it has a little bit of cheesy shallowness about it that goes beyond just the makeup issues. But it’s pretty good, and I’m sure it will quickly gain a loyal following.
FREQUENCY premieres Wednesday, October 5 at 9/8c on the CW.
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.