"One day at work, a 28-year-old librarian meets the 20-year-old woman who will become his wife," says Judy Berman. "The thing is, she already knows him—knows that they will fall in love, marry, spend many happy years together—because he is a time traveler. Ever since she was a little girl, an older version of the man has been periodically journeying back through the decades to spend time with her. So she already adores him. And now, he’s younger and more attractive than she’s ever known him to be. Unfortunately, because he’s just now meeting her, he has yet to experience the true love that eased his various youthful traumas and is still a total mess of a human being. This is the premise of HBO’s latest epic drama, The Time Traveler’s Wife. If you find it extremely confusing as described above, that’s because it is indeed extremely confusing. If, however, the summary makes even a lick of sense to you, chances are you’ve already encountered the story of Clare and her time-traveling soulmate Henry, in the form of the megahit 2003 novel by Audrey Niffenegger or the major motion picture starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana, from 2009. The plot has always been absurd. But after nearly two decades and one widely seen, remarkably bad adaptation, it has also aged poorly and grown redundant. It would, at this point, take a truly inspired interpretation to make a Time Traveler’s Wife series work. Sadly, this ain’t it."
The weaknesses of HBO’s The Time Traveler’s Wife are the weaknesses that have dogged Steven Moffat throughout his career: "Tonal inconsistencies that sometimes render glib what should be harrowing; a complicated story structure that occasionally obscures character, rather than reveal it; and, especially, the inescapable sense that the lines coming from its characters’ mouths are the result, not of human emotion, but of an insufficiently invisible screenwriter attempting to simulate it," says William Hughes. "Where the show succeeds—which it does, slightly more often than not, and with more confidence as its six-episode run proceeds—is in drilling in to all the stranger emotional consequences of Niffenegger’s 2003 novel. It is, for example, to the credit of both Moffat and stars Rose Leslie and Theo James that the series manages to successfully sell its central love triangle, eventually revealed to be between Leslie, James, and…well, James again."
The Time Traveler's Wife can’t completely escape the book’s maudlin pull, but it offers both a more lighthearted and a tougher take than the film: "It capitalizes on the possibilities for slapstick offered by Henry’s constant buck-naked, <i>Terminator-style tumbles into unexpected times and places," says Mike Hale. "And it restores the testiness and jealousy (and copious sex) between Clare and Henry that was muffled in the movie’s gauzy telling. Moffat’s involvement was the reason to have some hope for, or at least be curious about, this new adaptation. The love of puzzles and sleight of hand and general narrative complexity that he has demonstrated, often with considerable ingenuity, in Doctor Who and Sherlock seemed to make him a good match for the nerdy science-fiction side of Niffenegger’s book. And the best moments in Moffat’s series are ones that get into the details of how time travel works, or that show the tricks Henry uses to communicate with himself or manipulate events across time."
The Time Traveler's Wife is unwatchable: "From the jump, Theo James (Sanditon) and Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) are odd choices for Henry and Clare," says Linda Maleh. "They both inject their characters with a rough, aggressive quality, subverting what should feel like a sweet love story. This is in contrast to the ill-received 2009 film, which, however you feel about it, nailed the casting with Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana, who fully embody the characters’ demure and bookish personas. Whereas James and Leslie spend most of their screen-time screaming at each other. The couple who love poetry, opera, punk music, and can talk for hours while playing chess are gone. In their place are two people who have nothing in common, and have no reason to be together other than fate (aka time travel) pushing them together."
This is a series that struggles at times to find a new way into its story: "One might think that a story hinging on time travel would be open and wildly free-ranging, but The Time Traveler’s Wife has, in all its incarnations, had a sourness to it," says Daniel D'Addario. "This show depicts someone who is not merely able to move through the eras of his life, but is compelled to do so against his will."
The Time Traveler's Wife is funny: "One thing that makes this show work is that there are parts I openly laughed out loud at," says Rachel Leishman. "It’s not funny in the sense that this is a comedy; it’s still a story about a man who is forced to live his life out of order and the woman who wants to be there for him, but it is also just the characters using their humor as a way to deflect from their own pain, and in that comes the reason this show is relatable despite, you know, no one actually knowing what it feels like to just suddenly time travel."
Steven Moffat addresses grooming concerns since adult Henry repeatedly visits Clare when she is a child: “That’s not what the story is in the book or the film or the TV show. He’s married to her,” says Moffat. “He meets her as an adult, he falls in love with her, he gets married to her and then he’s flung back in time, through no fault of his own, and is confronted with the childhood version of the woman he already loves. Even more so in the TV show version, he absolutely makes it clear that he’s just a friend.” Additionally, the Henry who visits young Clare is “a responsible man, so he has tremendously strict rules about this,” like that he will never reveal who he is to her in the future.