'The Time Traveler's Wife' review: Easygoing fare for tough times

Rose Leslie and Theo James star in HBO series based on popular novel.

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

Full of romantic notions, expected absurdity and unexpected humor, “The Time Traveler’s Wife” bets on the considerable charm of its leads to sell its outlandish premise. 

It’s a good bet. Stars Rose Leslie and Theo James have an easygoing bicker-banter chemistry that lets this fantasy rom-com slide past its many ridiculous and overtly sentimental moments. No, it’s not a show for the ages, but it works as a ray of empty-headed spring-summer sunny optimism.

Rose Leslie and Theo James in "The Time Traveler's Wife."

James plays Henry DeTamble, who learns as a boy that he has an unfortunate condition: He travels through time, abruptly and with little control, always arriving naked. In front of a bus, at a bar, in a crowded city or in the middle of nowhere. He has to scramble to find clothes and safety, he gets to look around a bit, then eventually he’s yanked back to the present. 

Since he’s doing this at every age he tends to run into different versions of himself. This reveals who he will eventually marry. So Henry travels back in time to meet his future bride Claire (eventually Leslie). He starts visiting her at age 6 and visits hundreds of times as she grows.

Yes, he’s grooming her, a potentially yucky fact that the script acknowledges and then blows right past. Henry isn’t Jeffrey Epstein, he just really loves Claire. Or something like that.

While the romance is always central, this six-episode adaptation of the popular book and subsequent film has a lot of fun with the various Henries, who don’t all get along, and the odd predicaments presented by traveling naked through time (James’s bare derriere deserves its own separate credit here). 

Claire, of course, has to suffer through Henry’s unpredictable schedule while also juggling his multiple selves. The constant state of confusion undercuts the story’s natural drift toward Deep Thoughts and Big Moments.

Instead “The Time Traveler’s Wife” knows how ridiculous it is and exults in its silliness. Exulting in silliness may be called for these days.

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News. 

'The Time Traveler’s Wife'


9 p.m. Sunday