When you think of time-traveling films or television series, the first ones you think of mainly consist of white casts. If someone asked you to name a predominantly black, indigenous or people of color (BIPOC) led time-traveling series, it may take a little bit to come up with one, if any. Thankfully, that’s where IMDbTV’s Timewasters comes in to change the game
Timewasters creator Daniel Lawrence Taylor grew tired of not seeing an all-Black “gang” (British slang for crew) show, so he really wanted to develop his own series that revolved around a Black group of friends. At the time, Taylor was learning how to play trumpet and thought why not an all-Black jazz band. But, he still needed to add another layer to this story to make it a proper fish out of water story. So, he thought, why not include some time-traveling to the mix and have the characters go back to the 1920s.
“It’s a weird one,” Taylor recalls to The Nerds of Color during a Zoom call from his home in London. “So, it was a combination of things where I just kind of slammed a bunch of ideas together. I wish I could say it was something really organic, but it was, genuinely, I slammed a bunch of ideas together. Timewasters kind of came out the other end.”
Premiering today (June 11) on IMDb TV (Amazon), Timewasters follows a struggling jazz quartet who discover an elevator that magically transports them to the 1920s — during the Jazz Age where being Black and playing jazz was all the rage in high society. Hilarity ensues as the four friends try to adjust to the 1920s. The jazz quartet consists of the serious trumpet player Nick (Taylor); his sister and drummer Lauren (Adelayo Adedayo), whose goal is to make as much money as possible; saxophonist Jason (Kadiff Kirwan), a ladies man with the looks but not the brains; and, sweet, gentle singer Horace (Samson Kayo), who just finds joy in everything going on.
“It was the Jazz Age, so what a perfect time to go back,” Taylor explains. “To them, the Jazz Age was [the] perfect opportunity for them to become everything that they wanted to become. But how funny that, even though they have the knowledge of everything that happens in the future, they’re in the golden era of jazz, and they’re a jazz band, they still, somehow, mess it all up. I think that was what was so fun to kind of delve into.”
Taylor, who comes from a comedy background after starring in numerous British comedies like Cockroaches and Uncle, knew that he had to include the idea of what it means to be Black in the past. He made sure the episodes included cultural appropriation, white people’s obsession with Black men, and many other topics that Black people identify with, even if it made the viewers feel a bit uncomfortable at times.
“I’ve always done comedy and my thing is [to] always push the boundaries,” says Taylor. “And, I think that’s what I wanted to do. I love the fact that you said it made [audiences] feel uncomfortable. I want people to kind of question whether they should be laughing or not. And, I think that’s what I wanted to do with this show. I wanted to explore those things – what it would be like for Black people [to time travel]. We all know what it’s like for white people to time travel, but what would it be like for Black people and that was one of the [topics] I wanted to explore.”
The series first premiered in the UK in 2018 at ITV2 and went on for two seasons. It earned a nomination for Best Comedy Series at the BAFTAs and won Taylor the Royal Television Society Award for Breakthrough Talent. It came to no surprise when Hollywood came calling for the series to be remade in the U.S. Lauren Ashley Smith, writer and co-executive producer of HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show, is set to write and produce the U.S. version of Timewasters. Taylor and his team are set to executive produce the series. Taylor is excited for the expansion of the story to be told through the eyes of Black American history.
“It was almost a no-brainer,” says Taylor. “With Timewasters, I think it was [the] perfect opportunity because British history and American history are completely different. When Lauren came to the project and pitched all these amazing ideas, it was kind of a no brainer. What she is currently developing is giving Timewasters a whole new life. It’s almost like a whole new show. I think I’ve given her [is] a foundation which [she] is building a whole different house. She’s made it into a whole new different show. You can actually play those two shows next to one another and you won’t necessarily be watching a remake, you will be watching a whole new show, which is really exciting.”
Timewasters was Taylor’s first series he’s written and created, but it didn’t come without any challenges. In an article written by Taylor in the Guardian last year, Taylor revealed how difficult it was being a Black TV writer in an white industry and how little support Timewasters received by the second season, despite the positive reviews and accolades that followed the series. The series was cancelled after two seasons, but it hasn’t deterred him from other projects. He is a little more hopeful in his career choices and opportunities since writing the piece.
“I think, after I wrote the article, it really did resonate through the industry,” Taylor explains. “There were a lot of people kind of talking at the same time — myself, Michaela Cole, Lenny Henry. I think it’s made people sit up and listen. Because there’s so few black creators and writers, it never came to anyone’s attention. And so, it’s been good. Not only does it bring this to people’s attention, but it also acts as a receipt to ensure that change has to happen and everyone’s making positive noises. I’ve seen a few positive changes and now the hope is that it continues. I’m quite hopeful that there’s a bigger change coming and I think there’s more voices now to ensure that change happens. It’s not the same few people. There’s much more of us now, so we can kind of make more noise and that makes me hopeful for the future.”
Seasons 1 and 2 of Timewasters drop exclusively on IMDb TV, Amazon’s free streaming service, on June 11.