‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’: Why Did Viewers Love It and Critics Hate It?

The Time Traveler’s Wife got the ax from HBO Max after just one season, despite the positive audience reception. On Rotten Tomatoes, the series starring Theo James and Rose Leslie scored a fantastic 85 percent audience rating. But the critics had a much different take. They believed the series was a dud, giving a score of just 38 percent. Why did viewers love it and critics hate it?

The Time Traveler’s Wife stars Theo James and Rose Leslie
Theo James and Rose Leslie | Barbara Nitke/HBO

‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ tells a unique love story

The Time Traveler’s Wife is a romantic fantasy based on the 2003 book of the same name by Audrey Niffenegger. It tells the story of Henry De Tamble (James), a man with a genetic disorder that causes him to randomly time-travel to unknown places and moments — from mostly within his lifetime — without warning.

Over space and time, Henry falls in love with Clare Abshire (Leslie) — with him first meeting her at the age of 28, and her first meeting him at the age of six. Essentially, it’s a love story that’s out of order. 

“I think like a lot of people, like a lot of geeks and nerds like me, I was drawn in by the time travel, but entranced by the love story,” series creator Steven Moffat told SlashFilm. “And to be honest, I’m an incredibly sentimental man. So a combination of time travel and romance really does it for me. You’d be hard-pressed for me to walk past if that was on offer.”

Why did viewers love the HBO Max series, while critics hated it?

Moffat’s sentiment was shared by the audience in their reviews for The Time Traveler’s Wife. Out of the hundreds of positive posts, a common theme was that viewers absolutely “loved” it.

“Loved this series. Had everything from suspense, intrigue, humor in all the right places and a good dose of romance. Loved the Two Henry’s playing off each other. Clare’s edgy personality kept poor Henry on his toes,” one fan shared. “This was one of HBO’s best in a very long time and they dropped it. Hopefully, some other service will pick this story up.”

Another added, “The critics are so wrong on this one. As someone who loved the book and hated the movie, I thought this tv adaptation was exceptionally well done. It really brought this unique and complicated story to life and rekindled all the feelings from the book.”

Not only did fans love Niffenegger’s rules of time travel, they also loved the suspense of the story and the complicated romance. Reviews also included a lot of positive feedback about the series’ writing, directing, and acting.

Critics didn’t see the romance in ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’

The biggest complaint critics seemed to have about The Time Traveler’s Wife was that the story came across as cringey and abusive instead of romantic. The fact that Henry has interactions with Claire when he is a grown man and she is just a child left many feeling awkward and uncomfortable. To be blunt, critics claimed the series featured a grown man grooming a young girl into being his future wife. But Moffat didn’t see it that way.

“It’s not like that at all, you know, he’s an absolutely kind old uncle figure with little Clare. There is no suggestion of anything weird or controlling, he’s never controlling with her. It is absolutely the other way round, as it’s in most relationships. It’s absolutely the other way round,” Moffat explained.

“Clare doesn’t change from being the little girl to being the old woman, right? She doesn’t change. She’s exactly the same person…The idea of grooming, of power imbalance, you can choose malevolently to pre-see the show to make it sound like that. But it’s not what’s on the screen.”

The Time Traveler’s Wife Season 1 is now streaming on HBO Max.

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