Shows where a character can go back and forth in time tend to have their own set of rules, like what happens in both timelines during the character’s time travel, and how their presence in the past affects the present. The more thought-out those rules can be, the better it is for the storytelling, since viewers aren’t distracted by trying to figure out the disruptions in the space-time continuum. A new Hallmark series does involve time travel, but it’s just as much about mending family rifts than anything else.
Opening Shot: “Port Haven, New Brunswick, 1814.” A woman is chased through the woods, with people shouting that she’s a witch. Out of desperation, she dives into a small pond and disappears.
The Gist: Present day Minneapolis. Fifteen-year-old Alice Dhawan (Sadie Laflamme-Snow) is about to play during a school talent show, but is dismayed when she walks out on stage and sees her dad Brady (Al Mukadam) staring at his phone and her mother, Kat Landry (Chyler Leigh), isn’t there at all. She storms off stage and pulls the fire alarm to distract everyone.
Kat shows up and is told that this incident is the last straw, and that Alice is going to be expelled. Brady and Kat have been together since they were teenagers, but they’ve recently separated; he tells Kat that his current girlfriend is moving in. Kat’s terrible day is compounded by the fact that she just got laid off from her job.
But when she gets a letter from her mom, Del Landry (Andie MacDowell), telling her to come home to Port Haven, Kat sees this as a way to get a fresh start. She hasn’t been there in 20 years, and has barely spoken to Del that whole time. Alice isn’t exactly in favor of the move, either, and snarks her way through her first few days there.
Del is happy to meet her granddaughter, but is still pretty cold towards Kat. It turns out that yes, that letter was written by Del, but she never sent it, and she wonders who did. Things just haven’t been the same since Kat’s 9-year-old brother Jacob disappeared in 1999; her father, Colton (Jefferson Brown), died the next year. The house used to be full of music and good times. Now all Del wants to do is finally get on with her life, which is why she’s taken down pics of both her son and husband.
There are some upsides to being back; Kat reconnects with her childhood bestie, Elliot Augustine (Evan Williams), who has also returned to town after a divorce. Elliot is a teacher at Alice’s school, and tells her to come to him for help, no matter when it is. But as conflict among the Landry women escalates, Alice takes a pendant from her mom and throws it into the pond on their property. She jumps in for it, but is caught by some vines.
When she’s pulled up, she’s surprised to see a teenage girl who says she’s on their family property. When she introduces herself as Kat (Alex Hook), Alice realizes she’s looking at the teenage version of her mother. Back at the house, Colton and Jacob are still alive, Del is wearing a sun dress and dancing, and the calendar says 1999. She enjoys dinner with the Landrys, and meets teenage Elliot (David Webster), who is in the barn to set up a telescope. She tells him who she really is, taking future Elliot up on his offer, which is why, in 2023, Elliot is able to reassure a worried adult Kat that Alice will be back.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? The Way Home feels like a gentle, Hallmark-ified take on a time travel series like the second season of Russian Doll, where there are rules to going back and forth in time. So let’s say Russian Doll season 2 combined with Virgin River.
Our Take: We actually had to go a couple of episodes deep while watching The Way Home. We were wondering how creators Alexandra Clarke, Heather Conkie and Marly Reed were going to handle the time-travel conceit.
The Way Home does a pretty good job of setting down those rules we mentioned above in those first two episodes, courtesy of Elliot, who isn’t quite sure how the pond works, but is the only one in both timeframes besides Alice who knows what’s what. For instance, the pond doesn’t send Alice back to 1999 until she needs to go, and time spent there also elapses in the present.
But the main thing that seems to tightly tie the two timeframes together is that Kat remembers being friends with this new girl in town named Alice that summer that Jacob disappeared; it’s why she gave her daughter that name. Little does Kat know that she named her kid after… well, after her kid. Because Alice was only around that summer, memories of what she looked like are a bit muddied, which is why neither Kat nor Del can make the connection; Alice is blurry in the one photo of them together back then.
Because that part of the story seems to be pretty well thought out, then the show comes down to the story of what the Landrys went through in 1999 and 2000 and how Del and Kat deal with it now. We appreciate that there are no easy answers between mother and daughter, and having the two of them back together after so much time apart doesn’t automatically make things better again. Both MacDowell and Leigh play this conflict well; there is a feeling that they both want to make this work, but just can’t because of the dual tragedies they suffered and the decades of estrangement.
It’s definitely going to be Alice’s job to mend things, as she goes between 1999 and now and truly finds out what happened to her uncle and grandfather. How she deals with the emotions of seeing how her family used to be versus how they are now will be the key to the show, and Laflamme-Snow also does a good job of conveying the layers of confusion that she has to cut through in order to use the time travel to her advantage.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: Elliot, knowing things that Kat doesn’t, assures her that Alice will come home at some point. This is after we see Alice go to teenage Elliot for help.
Sleeper Star: Samora Smallwood plays Monica Hill, who owns the local cafe and was Kat’s biggest nemesis in high school. She’s only in one scene in the first couple of episodes, but she makes an impact in that scene.
Most Pilot-y Line: For some reason, word got up to the kids at Alice’s new school that she set fire to the building, and she’s made fun of for it. How those rumors traveled from Minnesota to New Brunswick is anyone’s guess. And it seems that part gets dropped pretty quickly.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Solid performances, a pretty well-thought-out time travel concept, and an avoidance of schmaltz makes The Way Home a good show to watch with your family.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
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