"Ever wish you could live the last week all over again? My name's Frank B. Parker and I do it all the time. I work for a secret government project experimenting with time travel. When things really get screwed up, I'm the guinea pig they send back to take care of it. Catch is, I can only go back seven days."
Science FictionTime Travel series which aired on UPN from 1998-2001 and not to be confused with the manga of the same name.Using technology salvaged from the Roswell crash, a secret NSA project has developed "The Sphere", a time machine capable of carrying its pilot back in time exactly seven days.The trouble is, the "backstep" process is extremely painful, and if the pilot passes out and loses control of the Sphere he'll end up in space or underground — and in their search for a pilot with a high enough pain threshold, the best candidate is psychotic Gulf War veteran Frank Parker.Due to the limitations of their alien fuel supply, backsteps are reserved for cases where massive disasters can be averted (Frank's first mission is to prevent a terrorist cell from detonating a stolen nuclear weapon in Washington, DC).Though it would seem that most of the time, Frank's missions should entail nothing more than a well-timed phone call, this rarely turned out to be the case. Typically, the situation would either prove more complex than the backstep team had previously believed, time would be short (often, political or intelligence-gathering factors would delay the backstep until about 6 days 23 hours after the disaster of the week), or Frank would just decide to solve the problem himself for no good reason (but then, he was insane).While most shows divert from their "normal" premise to explore ways in which the underlying technology can go wrong only occasionally, Seven Days ended up relying on this device approximately every other episode. Over the course of the series, Sphere malfunctions had various effects including:
Mentally reverting Parker to a childlike state
Turning Parker into a ghost (Combining Blind Seer and several other tropes)
Intercepting a jet midflight and slicing it in half while picking up one of the passengers and sending his consciousness back in time.
Travel back in time without anyone at the helm and only Parker's bag to provide clues to what caused the Backstep, necessitating the use of a psychic.
Also, all life on Earth was wiped out at least three times, once by the Cure For Cancer.Main characters would also die in almost every episode, either as a major part of the plot or as an afterthought (all life on Earth is wiped out including all of the main characters); their deaths would always be fixed by a Backstep, of course, but it was still somewhat jarring to see a show repeatedly kill its entire cast!Despite its reliance on both a Disaster of the Week and phlebotinum breakdown, Seven Days is noteworthy in that it was not formulaic structurally. While most episodes began with a Columbo-style setup showing how the disaster of the week came to pass, what followed varied substantially. Sometimes, the backstep would occur immediately, followed by an investigation in the past. Other times, the investigation would come first, with the backstep put off until the final scene. Sometimes they would do both. And, of course, how the prevention of the disaster was related to the Sphere malfunction-of-the-week varied greatly as well. In quite a few episodes, Parker's official mission was secondary to his own personal goals in a backstep (Typically, saving a friend from a personal tragedy, or simply escaping from his confinement on the base).Though they never went so far as Quantum Leap in this regard, there are occasional hints that some form of God takes active offense at their tampering in his domain. Parker's life is often spared by divine intervention — for example, an unexpected thunderstorm that puts out the fire in which he'd just incinerated the Antichrist. How this fits in with the fact that voodoo priests on the show can perform actual magic is unclear.Arguably this is was one of UPN's more successful shows managing to run for three seasons and only surpassed by its fellow sci-fi series, Star Trek: Voyager.
This show provides examples of:
Adam and Eve Plot. Whenever the population of the Earth is killed, it's more like an 'Adam and Olga' plot.
A.I. Is a Crapshoot: CLAIRE, the disturbingly attractive supercomputer who just wants to save the world by killing a bunch of people.
Bluff The Imposter: In one episode, Parker is pretending to be Russian while speaking to a pair of Russian bad guys. This seems to work at first, since Parker learned Russian in an earlier episode. One of the Russians asks where he's from, and he responds that he's from Moscow. The man says that he loves the Summer Gardens in Moscow, and Parker thanks him. The other Russian pulls a gun on Parker, while the first explains that the Summer Gardens are in St. Petersberg.
Character Outlives Actor: The reason why Ballard left the show and was replaced by Owsley is because his actor Sam Whipple was battling cancer. he died soon afterward.
The Determinator: Parker was chosen because unlike all the other candidates for the Chrononaut project, his test scores actually improved under physical stress, ie. being subjected to repeated electric shocks.
E.T. Gave Us Wi-Fi: The Time Travel machine, along with some other more common technology, was reverse engineered from alien technology salvaged from the Roswell crash.
Evil Hand: Ballard gets a transplant of a piece of tech from one of the Roswell aliens. They believe it's an alien medical device allowing someone to walk after a severe spinal injury (like Ballard received in his youth). It works, but it also allows the alien to take over Ballard's mind - an alien who was a murderer, and the ship which crashed having been acually a prison transport ship.
Evil Twin. At least two of them! Evil Olga, and Evil Parker. One of the sphere malfunctions causes Parker to split into two, one good and one evil. The evil one actually kills the good one! When he goes back in time, he gets surprised attacked by his own evil twin. This anti-anti-Parker is good again, and has all of the knowledge that the evil Parker was going to use to take over the world. Backstep would've sent anti-Parker to the mental institute Hansen Island in place of the real Parker in the end but he fell off a cliff to his death.
Evil Olga is actually a completely different person, apparently unrelated to Olga. They're not even from the same country.
I Just Want to Be Normal: Molly, the psychic Isaac calls on in "Empty Quiver". She resents the hell out of him for making her push her psychic powers.
Impersonating an Officer: Two inner city hoods steal Frank's and Olga's NSA IDs, and are later seen at a bar demanding that the bartender give them a bottle of some expensive alcohol, but the bartender isn't buying it. "OK, if you're with the NSA, what does 'NSA' stand for?"
Kavorka Man: While not actually ugly, Dr. Ballard is certainly Hollywood Homely, and yet, the women flock to him. Perhaps it's the wheelchair.
Lesser of Two Evils: Let the world be destroyed, or give the psycho the keys to the time machine?
Mirror Universe: A literal example, since the moment of transition suddenly reflects the screen. Later, we learn that people read English right-to-left there. Naturally, everyone he knows is a polar opposite in this universe. Talmadge is a Mad Scientist experimenting with alien tech, Donovan is an Ax-Crazy militant who likes wearing leather and Putting on the Reich, Owsley is a well-mannered college graduate, and Olga's sister behaves more like Olga (who's dead in this world) than like her Prime self. Naturally, the US is a military dictatorship, and the purpose of the Backstep project is to help the government in fighting La Résistance.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: One episode dealt with an alien from the Roswell crash that was supposedly friendly which Frank and Olga set free. However later they find out he was a dangerous criminal whose first act is to try and overload a nuclear plant. Oops.
No OSHA Compliance. The "sphere bay" always had welding sparks flying about; weren't they ever finished building that place?
Given that the sphere is held in place by a load of flimsy scaffolding, I'd imagine that it's designed to be deconstructed and rebuilt whenever the sphere is retrieved. Parker really does try to land it in the right place though. (And he sometimes does!)
"What is it with these DAMN WELDERS?"
According to The Other Wiki, whenever he crashlands it damages the sphere, requiring repairs. Considering we often see the Sphere materalise in Earth orbit, the fact that Parker can land it in roughly one piece is even more remarkable.
Only One Me Allowed Right Now: When the Sphere arrives in the past, it and all its contents disappear from their original location. The first clue that a backstep has occurred is that Frank and the Sphere suddenly vanish.
Once this resulted in a plot point, because Parker took an active tracking device back, causing the tracker to inexplicably disappear from the bad guy's locked briefcase, and reappear halfway around the world turned on, and cluing him in that something very very strange was happening.
One episode has an Oh Crap moment when both Parker and Donovan show up when they hear the Backstep alarm. Everyone now wonders who used the Sphere. No one, Future!Parker did a Spit Take on the controls, starting the Backstep before he had a chance to get inside.
OOC Is Serious Business: When Ballard's mind gets taken over by a Roswell alien, Isaac notices him not sucking on a lollypop while working.
Precrime Arrest: Occasionally preventing a crime as the episode's plot. Sometimes Frank is able to prevent the Disaster Of The Week by preventing the perpetrator from attempting the crime. Most episodes, however, this trope is subverted, and Frank has to stop the crime/disaster as it happens instead of preventing it from being attempted.
Prison Ship: In one episode, one of the inventors finally translates the markings on the ship and finds out that it is a prison transport. Unfortunately, the Grey prisoner has just escaped and is hell-bent on paying the humans back for putting him in a coma.
Punishment Box: Frank's background includes several days in such a box while being a captive (a form of interrogation). He never cracked that way, but the project recovered him from a madhouse.
Recruited From The Gutter: Frank is recruited/drafted into the Backstep program from a military mental institution because he's the only person they could find on short notice who proved able to pilot the Sphere.
Love interest Olga was Russian. Ask Ramsey, and he'll blame everything on the Dirty Communists. One episode has a slightly unhinged general try to start a world war an effort to wipe out Communism. At the end of the episode Ramsey says that he had the right idea. (Parker facepalms.)
There are at least two episodes where its revealed that Ramsey's paranoia actually is somewhat justified, as the Russians really are trying to steal data or fuel from the project, in the hopes of creating their own version of Backstep. Considering that Russia had a project first, and Project Backstep hired away their scientist, it really looks like it's America that stole the project from the Russians, and America just happened to have more alien fuel in their crashed spacecraft and a better reactor design. (And it couldn't have helped that the Russian project accidentally sent one of their test ship forward several decades with a lot of fuel on board.) It seems rather hypocritical for Ramsey to get angry at Russia for trying to steal American advances to a concept stolen from Russians.
Sarcastic Confession: In one episode, the Media gets hold of information about Project Backstep. Frank volunteers to do damage control by doing an interview and describing with unflinching honesty all the insane things that have happened to him over the course of the show to date. It helps that he starts his narrative by telling the reporter that he was pulled from a mental hospital.
Scannable Man - Frank is, since he was given the chrononaut's tattoo in his first mission.
Shout-Out. One episode features guest star Robert Picardo (the EMH from Star Trek: Voyager), and when he gets hurt, for the only time in the series, Talmadge says, "Let's get him to sickbay."
Society On Edge Episode: This was an entire series about this trope, in which The World Is Always Doomed but a lone time-traveler has the chance to investigate and circumvent such disasters. To be fair, roughly one third or so of the episodes limits the threat to something damaging to the USA but not actually world-threatening (such as the first episode, which had a terrorist attack on the White House, which didn't lead to escalating tensions when the Backstep was made. Or the third, which was about a scientist that was believed to have made a breakthrough in cold fusion having a car accident). Of course, even allowing for some of the world-threats being the result of the Backstep program itself, that's still some two thirds of the series raising the question of how humanity managed to survive before Backstep.
Talk to the Fist: Subverted, when Frank tries to interrupt one bad guy's monologue this way. He gets smacked around and put in a hold and the bad guy starts again from the top.
The Teaser. Actually, a lack thereof, which by this time was unusual
Will They or Won't They?. Even more infuriating: Whenever Parker made any real progress with his love interest, he would invariably go back in time and undo it.
At the end of one episode, Parker has just saved Olga's life in Alaska. After they return to the base, they appear to ready to go to Olga's room for some deserved time together. Then the woman from HR whom Parker promised a date at the beginning of the episode shows up and drags Parker away.
A Wizard Did It. Lots of the pesky little details about how time travel works. Most notably, the various reasons they give for why backsteps can't just be daisy-chained to extend the seven day window don't stop them from doing it anyway at least three times.
Maybe because, as stated repeatedly during the show, there exists only one instance of anything at a time. That's why there are no two Parkers after a backstep (with the exception of the Evil Twin episode, and that had the Parkers split off during the backstep and both step out of the sphere). Each time a backstep is performed, a portion of the alien fuel is lost forever. So, while it's possible to jump back again and again, it's very costly.
Several episode do involve time travelers from years in the future coming back, claiming either advances in Sphere design or yet another alien ship crashing and delivering more fuel. Naturally, these are one-offs and are quickly forgotten.
You're Insane!: Frank just agrees with anybody who says this, because he is insane.