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Logically, 'Journeyman' can't quite go the distance

Kevin McKidd plays a time traveler in San Francisco. Kevin McKidd plays a time traveler in San Francisco. (David Moir/NBC Universal via AP)

Now that Hugh Laurie is a full-fledged TV star in America, the networks are getting ideas. This season, NBC is packaging two formidable actors from the United Kingdom in a pair of middling prime-time dramas and hoping for lightning. On Wednesday, Damian Lewis ("The Forsyte Saga") shows up in "Life," but first we'll see Kevin McKidd in "Journeyman," which premieres tonight at 10 on Channel 7.

"Journeyman" rests almost entirely on McKidd's shoulders, which is a good thing. Those who followed HBO's "Rome" surely remember McKidd for his stern, passionate performance as Lucius Vorenus, the warrior with a broken heart. With his boulder-like facial structure and his piercingly blue eyes, he is more than capable of quietly but surely carrying a dramatic series. For "Journeyman," he trades in his tunic for contemporary casual and adopts a plain American accent, but he is nonetheless commanding.

The show's concept, a riff on time travel with elements of "Quantum Leap" and "Early Edition," is not quite as solid. McKidd plays Dan Vasser, a San Francisco newspaper reporter who uncontrollably travels back in time a decade or two to save the lives of strangers. During his journeys, which always stay within San Francisco, he also meets up with his former fiancee, Livia (Moon Bloodgood), who died in a plane crash before their wedding. Those moments are overwhelmingly emotional for him. At times, he observes her from afar, like Scrooge or George Bailey revisiting his life. But then he also pretends to be his younger self in order to spend time with her.

When Dan goes on his spontaneous travels, he disappears from the present for days at a time. That doesn't help his already troubled marriage to Katie (Gretchen Egolf), who fears he has fallen back into an old gambling problem. And his resentful brother, Jack (Reed Diamond), a cop, thinks Dan may be using drugs. His editor at the San Francisco Register, Hugh (Brian Howe), is also concerned. Of course Dan is desperate to prove to them he's undergoing some kind of time warp, but, well, they are skeptical.

When Dan zooms backward, the show has fun with period set design and props. A bus passes by with a "Just Say No to Drugs" ad on it, the movie "Less Than Zero" appears on a billboard, Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley are hosting the "Today" show. Spy magazine passes before our eyes.

But those are the only elements of the leaps that make sense. "Journeyman" lacks natural sci-fi logic. Once you start thinking about how the show handles time travel, that way madness lies. For instance, when people from Dan's past see him during his journeys, aren't they disturbed that he looks much older? And don't get me started on the domino effect when you alter history . . .

Perhaps such confusions will clear up as the series develops and the reason behind his journeys emerges. I suspect not. With its pleasing San Francisco locales and McKidd's sympathetic performance, "Journeyman" is entertaining enough. You'll have to check your reason at the opening credits.

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Starring: Kevin McKidd, Moon Bloodgood, Reed Diamond, Gretchen Egolf

On: NBC, Channel 7

Time: Tonight, 10-11