Time travel has long been a narrative conceit used in fiction, with sci-fi offering the bulk of the storytelling in that respect. Recent years, however, have seen all manner of genres tackling timeline alterations, and primetime TV has especially seen a (non-quantum) leap in shows about time travel. Enter Making History, Fox's latest live-action entry to its Sunday night lineup. The latest network venture from Happy Endings vet Adam Pally, Making History hits up the distant past with a stellar cast that brings big laughs and smart commentary...but it unfortunately achieves those highs in between larger chunks of extremely dumb comedy.
Making History kicks things off seemingly in the middle of the story's first act, where Adam Pally's college professor-ish has already discovered his time travel apparatus - a giant gym bag that can fit upwards of three people inside - and has been making regular jaunts back to the 1700s, where he has engaged in a romantic relationship with a woman who is wowed by his sophisticated manner. (This, of course, includes winning her favor using songs popular during the 1990s, including Celine Dion's Titanic classic.) In some ways, this purposefully unbalanced entry point feels like an intriguing move, and in other ways, it feels like there was nobody in the Making History creative team who said "No" to any ideas.
In fact, precisely because of how audiences are introduced to things, Making History seems to be saying that the story is truly about third lead Chris, the first major TV role for actor Yassir Lester. Because Chris is a history professor who is popular with students, Dan invites him back to the past to help solve a tiny issue that could effectively end the United States as we know it, due in part to Dan's girlfriend Deborah (Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester) being the daughter of Paul Revere. And it is indeed through Chris (and Deborah, to an extent) that Making History offers glimpses of the excellence that can be achieved with all of the creative pieces that are already in place, if they were put together in such a way that excluded jokes about selfies and chamber pots.
Chris is black and from an era where civil issues are far more positive than they were centuries before, so there are endless avenues of interest to explore in that respect, and by bringing him into the days where the American Revolution was coming together, Making History taps into a rich vein of material and handles that side of things particularly amusingly. Even more so when absurdist leanings are utilized. The show is also able to give Deborah similar character truths, as she can experience a future where (to use another broad societal generalization) women are treated more fairly then they were in colonial days. Fox comedies may not be where people want to see uncomfortable gender and race issues dismantled for laughs, but Making History proves it can be done cleverly without provoking anger.
But, again, while I readily enjoyed those aspects, and some of the other random nonsense, Making History is very uneven everywhere else. Adam Pally is 100% as Dan, but Dan is a stereotypical doofus ex machina who actively makes the wrong decisions and does little to provide genuine motivation for anything that's happening. That gets marginally better as episodes pass, but so often, one begins to project anger onto Chris simply because he doesn't ditch Dan and his stupidity in the present to go off on legitimately great adventures. To be fair, Deborah isn't exactly a Mensa president either, but her optimism and wide-eyed appreciation for her situation is easier to root for than Dan's sluggishness.
Making History was created by Julius Sharpe, a writer/producer on shows such as Family Guy and Dads, and the influence of the former series is quite obvious, particularly in how Family Guy uses its first act to tell one story and then diverts things into something different. (Making History isn't all about Redcoats and uprisings.) Lego Movie directors and animated TV show kings Phil Lord and Chris Miller were executive producers here, and I don't see this rising to the top of their resumes anytime soon, especially when their MTV series Clone High is a hallmark for drawing laughs from historical icons. For its faults, Making History also serves as a welcoming platform for character actors to step in as familiar faces from U.S. history, and I would probably watch an entire show just following Neil Casey's Sam Adams and John Gemberling's John Hancock, seen below. Not that they were impervious to lame jokes, but still.
With only nine episodes to boast for its first season - the reasoning behind that isn't so nefariously ominous - Making History isn't asking for audiences to devote too much of their time to watching, which is a decision that one likely won't regret. At least, not to the point where one would get inside of a duffel bag and go back in time to convince one's past self not to watch. Yassir Lester is the standout here, and when the jokes are smart, the jokes are hilarious, and I don't think I'm going out on a limb in saying watching Making History is more fun than a history lecture. But if there's a Ken Burns documentary on...