THAT WAS THEN. "Back to the Future"-esque adventures of a 30-year-old washout
who gets a supernatural opportunity to relive his terminally scarring teenage
years. Series premieres tonight at 9 on WABC/7.
Do not confuse ABC's "That Was Then" with The WB's similarly themed but
smarter "Do Over." This is more like "Doofus Over."
Travis Glass (James Bulliard) is a chronic loser who, as his 30th birthday
draws near, fronts the bookmaking business he and his older brother, Gregg
(Brad Raider), inherited from their dad. Gregg takes bets in a back room while
Travis sells boards - oak, pine, plywood - and is bored stiff. To make the
situation more miserable, obnoxious Gregg is unappreciatively married to a
woman Travis has worshipped since high school.
If only he could go back to that time knowing what he knows now, Travis
believes, he could get his life on track. And sure enough, one stormy night
while he's lying in bed listening to rock music of his youth, lightning strikes
his house, rips through his stereo system, crackles up the cord to his
headphones and - no, it doesn't burn his hair off. It transports him to 1988 on
the eve of the public-speaking fiasco he blames for all his adult failures.
Successful series have been built around less interesting fantasies, but
the creators of "That Was Then" are almost as hapless as their hero. They
saddled themselves with a casting nightmare. As the supposedly 16-year-old
Travis, Bulliard looks closer to 26. And in the fake beard that's intended to
make him look 30, he just looks silly. In fact, none of the cast members who
have to play two ages is convincing.
Despite this distraction and some other improbabilities, the middle section
of tonight's premiere, in which Travis struggles to rise above stage fright
and step between his beloved Claudia (Kiele Sanchez) and Gregg, produces some
entertaining moments. Most of them involve Tyler Labine as Travis' mischievous
buddy Donnie Pinkus. Pinkus is the sort of id-ish character Jack Black would
have played before he graduated to movie roles.
Unfortunately, the episode's ending raises questions about where this
series can and will go. Travis returns to the present to find he has a
different, more successful life, including a wife, but also that he has caused
changes in relationships and even "erased" someone dear to him. So he must go
back and try to set things right - which suggests that the series will either
become redundant or hopelessly complicated.