What is it about time travel that makes it such a fun plot device? Is it the way in which it opens up the entirety of time and space for storytelling possibilities? Or is it the fact that while you can use it to tell incredibly complex, special effects-heavy adventure tales, it also lends itself to low-fi options? A few clever words, and all of a sudden two guys standing around on a street corner is science fiction. And if the words are both clever and hilarious, then it’s sci-fi comedy, and it’s gold.
Tom and Sam Are Stuck, created by Tom Saunders and Sam Laybourne, has been bumbling around since 2006, and is one of those great underwatched web series. The plot is simple: Sam and his uncle Tom are two average guys who just happen to be from the future and are trapped in the 2000s looking for the tools they need to fix their Timevan. Despite all their past access to advanced technology, Tom and Sam aren’t much smarter than the rest of us — and so the series focuses on their attempts to understand our complicated time period (they were originally aiming for the 1970s, so their pre-trip research is useless).
We linked to a story a few weeks ago that claimed Starz was interested in developing the series, which he has since refuted. But the concept is perfect for low-budget production, and Saunders and Laybourne are extremely funny behind and in front of the camera. These aren’t sitcom writers who found out about the Internet while walking back and forth on the strike lines; while Saunders and Laybourne’s credits include Arrested Development and NewsRadio, they also managed to produce 24 episodes that range from full-scale adventures to answering questions like, “Why don’t we make millions on the lottery?” or “Why is this the golden age of porn?”
Their web site does look like a time traveler — from the year 1999 (they’re using Quicktime files on the site, for pity’s sake; guys, it’s called embedded video, look into it) — but they are utilizing Facebook to disseminate news and answer viewer questions about the future. It’s a high-concept premise executed on an extremely low-budget basis, and watching the guys bumble around Los Angeles in confusion for five minutes is more entertaining than the typical half-hour sitcom.
The one catch, though, is that while the webisodes showcase Saunders and Laybourne’s abilities to flesh out the world they come from with mere words, the development necessary to transform the show into a half-hour sitcom might destroy its low-fi charm. Plus, this is definitely a niche show, with niche appeal — the drop-off in Lost‘s ratings this season seems to indicate that many Americans have little patience for time travel, and few sci-fi comedies beyond Mork and Mindy or 3rd Rock From the Sun have really found success.
But perhaps the future is a world that happily embraces that combination of fantasy and farce. Maybe Tom and Sam know. Maybe that’s why they’re here.