The concept of time travel isn’t exactly new. It’s been around for ages both in fiction and on the screen (big screen and small). Now, in what is truly the heyday of big-budget fantasy and paranormal television, the trope of time travel on TV is well worn. Honestly, it is even a bit overused because it has become so common.
With the recent debut of acclaimed new series 11.22.63, time travel is again at the forefront of many TV watchers’ minds. Unlike other television series, which might feature a one-off episode or two involving time travel, the James Franco-led show takes time travel as its basic premise: can the past be changed, and what good is it if you can? Franco’s Jake Epping travels back to the 1960s at the behest of a dying friend in an attempt to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Given the popularity of this Stephen King adaptation, we started thinking about a few of our favorite instances of time travel in shows that are not strictly about time travel (shows unlike 11.22.63).
Check out this list of 7 of our favorite time travel episodes, in no particular order. Warning: spoilers may follow!
The Halliwell sisters defied death time and again, facing off as the Power of Three against all manner of demon and supernatural creature over the series’ run. “All Hell Breaks Loose,” the finale of Season 3, was a total game-changer. It marked the departure of main character Prue Halliwell, after she was killed by the demon Shax. Of course, the viewers knew that Prue’s death was the result of a reset timeline. Charmed used time travel several times before and after this episode, but this was the instance with the greatest and most severe impact.
The Flash, “Out of Time” (Season 1, Episode 15)
Barry travels in time more than once, but “Out of Time” featured the first instance of that, when he inadvertently created a time warp after running to block the city from an incoming tsunami. Also, Cisco died in this timeline, at Evil Wells’/secret Eobard Thawne’s hand. Barry’s discovered ability to travel through time would come in handy several times after this instance. Resetting the timeline also revealed Cisco’s latent Vibe powers to sense alternate timelines/dimensions, so its consequences as a single episode were far reaching.
Once Upon a Time, “Snow Drifts” / “There’s No Place Like Home” (Season 3, Episodes 21 & 22)
This finale two-parter was a classic for so many reasons. For one, it’s an essential entry into the love story of Hook and Emma. Who can forget the hilarity of Emma going to past Hook’s boat and present Hook knocking his past self out? And excuse us while we flail at the memory of the gorgeous couple ballroom dancing. For another, it employed the classic trope of time travelers inadvertently altering the timeline and needing to fix it before the future is irreparably altered. Finally, it marked the end of the Zelena-centric Oz arc, an end which couldn’t have come soon enough, in our opinion.
“Mystery Spot,” in which Sam is forced to relive a day in which Dean dies a horrible death no matter how Sam attempts to intervene, was one of the funniest (and most tragic) episodes of the series. “Heat of the Moment” will never not make us laugh, thanks to the memory of it being featured every single time Dean died an increasingly absurd death and the day reset for Sam. This episode was at first a time loop episode, not a time travel one, but once Dean’s death finally became permanent, it was up to a despondent Sam to track down the Trickster and make him reverse time to before his brother’s demise.
Angel, “I Will Remember You” (Season 1, Episode 8)
This episode was a total tearjerker and it is very memorable for fans of the Buffy/Angel pairing. In it, Angel, a vampire, was granted his humanity, allowing him to spend an ecstatic day doing everything he ever wanted to do with his one true love (eating all the food, having lots of sex with Buffy… the usual!) Of course, in this show’s universe, every good thing must come with a price. In this case, the price meant Angel needing to relinquish his newly acquired humanity–and resetting the day they spent together to erase Buffy’s memory of his temporary humanity. Oh, the feels.
Star Trek: The Next Generation, “All Good Things…” (Season 7, Episodes 25 & 26)
This episode won a Hugo Award and capped off seven seasons of a brilliant, adored show, so you know it had to have been good. Captain Picard’s mind jumped between multiple time periods, thanks to an assist from Q, the most memorable recurring series sometimes-antagonist. Picard needed to solve a space anomaly. The episode featured three separate Enterprise crews (past, present, and future), and once Picard succeeded in solving the anomaly, the alternate future timeline he’d seen (not a great one) was effectively erased.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch, “Inna Gadda Sabrina” (Season 2, Episode 8) / Boy Meets World, “Not Guts, No Cory” (Season 5, Episode 6) (Crossover Event)
Who can forget ABC’s TGIF line-up? In this crossover event, Sabrina’s anthropomorphized cat Salem swallowed a time ball, inducing bouts of time travel wherever he went. In the Sabrina half, the teen witch wound up back in the 60s, where she has an eye-opening moment regarding feminism and the state of women. The version of time travel depicted in this episode is entirely different from any of the other episodes we’ve mentioned. Rather than Sabrina traveling through time individually, Salem’s time ball caused her entire life (and all the people in it) to be thrust back to the 60s. This episode was also part of the Quizmaster arc of Season 2, which was hands-down the absolute peak of the series.
“No Guts, No Cory” was very similar to “Inna Gadda Sabrina”–Salem’s time ball affected that universe in the same way, jolting all of the existing characters back in time, though the Boy Meets World characters are not self-aware of the time jump, as Sabrina was. Cory Matthews and the gang were dropped by in the 1940s and the men shipped off to war, leading to 1940s Topanga almost marrying Shawn, and Cory briefly thinking he was a tortured Frenchman with a little beret and everything. This episode, where past Cory attempted to propose to Topanga, also foreshadowed Topanga’s proposal at the end of the same season, a game-changing development in the series.
What do you think of our chosen episodes? Did we leave your favorite instance of TV time travel off of our list? Let us know your pick by commenting below!
Caralynn is a freelance entertainment writer. She also writes about all things television for TV Fanatic, Tell-Tale TV, HelloGiggles, and New York Observer. In her spare time, when she's not writing about TV, she's tweeting about it over at @caralynn_marie.