9 p.m. Saturdays, Starz
HBOs Boardwalk Empire offers no reasonable upside to visiting Atlantic City or Chicago in the 1920s. Showtimes Masters of Sex strips some of the appeal away from the late 50s, particularly for independent women. And with the dreadful Halt and Catch Fire, AMC has managed to quell my desires for a 1983 do-over.
Even Mad Men has artfully demonstrated that a roomful of style cant compensate for the cultural constrictions of yesteryear.
No matter where (or when) you go, your TV seems to be telling you that youre better off here and now.
Which is why Im surprised that Claire Randall, the heroine of Starzs elegant, cross-genre drama Outlander (9 p.m. Saturdays; also see the first episode at www.starz.com), isnt more upset when a strange encounter with a Druid standing stone yanks her out of a pleasant countryside vacation in 1945 and plops her smack in the middle of one of the Jacobite risings between Scotland and England in 1743.
It takes a bewildered Claire (Caitriona Balfe) a day or so to figure out where she is and whats going on, but she handles it with steadfast British resolve. Last Claire checked, she was a combat nurse who had survived World War II and had just reunited with her husband Jack (Tobias Menzies). The couple made a romantic getaway to Scotland and decided one morning to spy on a local Druid ceremony at dawn. Oops!
Now Claire is stuck in the 18th century, underdressed for it, fleeing from a redcoat dragoon patrol the sinister captain of which looks disconcertingly like her husband; turns out hes an ancestor.
She finds refuge with a band of swarthy but stouthearted Highlanders, who take her back to their castle and are impressed with her ability to put a dislocated shoulder back in its socket. It isnt long before Claire is accused of being a British spy, but its her luck that the injured shoulder is attached to a hunk of a man in a kilt named Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), whos willing to marry her and make her part of the clan.
Swell, then, but what about the husband she left back in the 20th century? Who? Oh, him. Shes working on that trying to figure out a way to get back to the standing stone and rub against it to try to initiate a return trip.
Despite its pulp-romance trappings and slightly silly sci-fi premise, Outlander is serious business and it immediately behaves like a shipshape television series. (And congrats to Starz for having the prescience to pick up an independence-minded drama just as 21st-century Scots are preparing to vote in September on whether to separate from the crown.)
Theres something instantly likable about Outlanders commitment to its themes and sensibilities. Adapted from a best-selling novel by Diana Gabaldon, I cant think of a good reason why fans of the book wont be pleased by what they see but Im sure theyll let us all know, point by point, if they arent. Not having read the book, I find the show sort of charming and sufficiently thrilling.