Science Fiction Time Travel series which aired on UPN from 1998-2001.
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, D.C.).
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)
- Giving Parker an Evil Twin
- Giving Parker "time hiccups" resulting in a Run Lola Run loop, and causing the bubbles in Parker's beer to move in the wrong direction
- Summoning a "time gremlin"
- Opening a black hole
- Intercepting a soul on its way to the afterlife
- A trip to the Mirror Universe
- Causing Parker to switch bodies with the Pope (A "Freaky Friday" Flip)
- 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.
Not to be confused with the manga Seven Days (2007), or the indie horror game 7Days (2013), or a haunted video tape.
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 Day in the Limelight: "Walk Away" for Ballard.
- A Handful for an Eye: Olga takes down a mercenary thug at one point by splashing hot coffee in his face.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: CLAIRE, the disturbingly attractive supercomputer who just wants to save the world by killing a bunch of people.
- The Alcoholic: Frank certainly does love the booze. This was one of the contributing factors to his divorce.
- Aliens Are Bastards: Very little is revealed of the alien race that crashed in Roswell in 1947, but the only surviving specimen, who is actually a criminal who was on the way to confinement on the ship, is a monster.
- Alternate Universe Reed Richards Is Awesome: Applies to EVERYONE in the season 3 episode 'Kansas'.
- Bait-and-Switch: Olga's Excellent Vacation begins with a scene involving Olga, dressed as a dominatrix, errrm, dominating Frank. It becomes obvious rather quickly that this is All Just a Dream, or possibly a perverted fantasy, of Frank's... and then the alarm clock rings and it's Olga who suddenly sits bolt upright in bed!
- Blind Black Guy: In the episode where Parker became a ghost.
- 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.
- Breathable Liquid: In one episode Parker has to use a diving suit filled with perfluorocarbon to board a Russian submarine 1000 feet deep. Once on board he removes his helmet and forcibly expels the fluid from his lungs.
- Broken Pedestal: In "Doppelganger," Ramsey is happy when his long-time idol, General Starker, takes charge after the Chinese set off a nuke in Death Valley. However, he's troubled when Starker demands the resignation of the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs so he can declare martial law. Ramsey is then stunned when it turns out Starker set off the nuke himself just so he could take over the nation in a military coup. After the backstep, Ramsey still can't believe his hero could have turned on his country like that.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Frank is mentally unstable and is supposed to be committed to an in-patient facility. However, he's one of the only people in the world who can tolerate the mental and physical demands of backstepping and has a talent for cutting through complicated schemes to find the right solution.
- 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.
- Cool Old Guy: Dr. Ivan Mentnor, who started what became Project Backstep.
- Cuckoo Nest: The episode "Déjà Vu All Over Again" has Frank Parker growing more and more Unstuck in Time, and his grip on reality growing more and more tenuous, but he manages to take control of his new powers and use them to save the day until the ending suggests that he might still be in the mental institution he was plucked from in the pilot episode, with the series only happening in his head.
- 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.
- Eidetic Memory: In the pilot episode, a great deal of attention is spent on Frank memorizing details about his upcoming mission. In subsequent episodes, this is dropped entirely; Frank has perfect recall of everything he's seen or heard.
- Elaborate Underground Base: Technically, an Elaborate Aboveground Base. Backstep was located at a facility in the Nevada desert nicknamed "Never-Never Land". This has long been rumored to be the designation for the USAF Groom Lake facility, a.k.a. Area 51.
- Elites Are More Glamorous: Both Frank and Donovan are Navy SEAL officers.
- The End of the World as We Know It: Threatened on several occasions, and actually done on several others.
- 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 actually 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.
- Fictional Video Game: In "Pinball Wizard," software used to launch a missile at the Pentagon is disguised as a video game.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: In "Revelation", during the climactic scene, an up-close shot of the villain's face is interrupted by a flash of lightning that also includes a grotesque, demon-like face for about three frames.
- Functional Addict: Frank is an alcoholic, has gambling addiction, and according to his ex-wife, needs the "rush" from combat. In spite of all that, he is a very effective operative.
- General Ripper: The project's head of security didn't seem to know that the Cold War had been over for years.
- Get Ahold Of Yourself Man: When an encounter with a time gremlin causes Olga to start screaming uncontrollably, Frank snaps her out of it with a hard, sudden slap. She quickly comes to her senses and thanks him.
- "Groundhog Day" Loop: It's actually structured like the popular movie Run Lola Run complete with techno-ish music and running.
- Harmful Healing: In a distant Alternate Future, a good Girl of the Week doctor's present-day invention of the cure for cancer wipes out all humanity.
- Horrible Judge of Character: Basically any time Ramsey calls someone a hero, patriot, good soldier, or really any sort of compliment, it turns out that guy is the problem of the week, or at the very least, a tremendous jerkass.
- 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?"
- Innocent Aliens: Subverted. The surviving alien which crash-landed at Roswell makes people think that he just wants to go home, but when he's freed he tries to nuke the Earth.
- He's also an alien criminal, so not innocent from that viewpoint either.
- Irrevocable Order: Dealt with during the series Fail Safe homage episode, "The Final Countdown". Frank manages to bring in the wife of one of the squadron's pilots, who shares information about the ultrasound of their unborn son that only the two of them know, since he was deployed immediately after seeing it. When this pilot cracks and refuses to continue the mission, the commander of the squadron stands down and a crisis is averted.
- Kavorka Man: While not actually ugly, Dr. Ballard is certainly Hollywood Homely, with his geeky appearance and male pattern baldness. And yet, the women flock to him. Perhaps it's the wheelchair.
- Later-Installment Weirdness: The first season had a few weird plotlines, but the week's disaster typically involved a terrorist attack or devastating accident. The second season kicks off with a gorilla destroying the world by hacking the nuclear football, and the show never quite returns to "ordinary" plots again.
- Lesser of Two Evils: Let the world be destroyed, or give the psycho the keys to the time machine?
- Monster of the Week: Disaster Of The Week. Anything and everything can happen in Seven Days. And then it will never be mentioned again.
- Which, weirdly, makes sense when you are constantly rewriting time so that only the main character remembers the events. Sure there are reports but to anyone except Parker they're merely abstract.
- 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. In fact, characters are even written backwards. 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 Celebrities Were Harmed: President Maxwell looks suspiciously like Bill Clinton, who was the incumbent president when the show originally aired.
- 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.
- 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!)
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Frank. Ramsey constantly tosses pointed asides or outright insults at him regarding his intelligence, but in one episode, Olga finds Frank working on complicated advanced mathematical formulas. Frank manages to impress her by stating that he's realized he's aging seven days more than everyone else for each Backstep, but since his aging also slows down during the process as he approaches the speed of light, he's trying to work out the numbers to find out just how much older he's getting.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: The NSA panel that authorized backsteps could be this if they didn't feel a situation warranted a backstep. Justified because the limited supply of alien phlebotinum meant backsteps were limited to national security emergencies.
- Oh, Crap!: Invoked in the very first episode:Sgt. Meyers: This is Sergent Meyers, who's calling?Frank: ...Conundrum.Sgt. Meyers: Oh, crap.
- Old Soldier: Talmadge. It's said and shown several times that before being named head of Backstep, he was an extremely talented NSA field agent.
- Only Mostly Dead: A backstep goes wrong (of course) due to sabotage, which kills Frank...mostly. He's a ghost, and because a Blind Black Guy is able to hear him Parker manages to save the day by backstepping again.
- 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.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When Ballard's mind gets taken over by a Roswell alien, Isaac notices him not sucking on a lollypop while working.
- Oral Fixation: Talmudge's ever-present cigar, Ballard's sucking on a Tootsie Pop when in the middle of a difficult problem.
- Phlebotinum Breakdown. As described above, roughly every other episode.
- 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.
- Rated M for Manly: Frank is as two-fisted as time-traveling, Eagleland-loving heroes get.
- Reasonable Authority Figure:
- Dr. Talmadge is established as one by refusing to discount Parker because of his mental issues and immediately believing him about the first backstep after he's confirmed to be carrying the necessary scannable tattoo.
- The NSA panel oscillated between being this and an Obstructive Bureaucrat depending on the situation, though they generally sided with the team so long as Talmadge was able to make a convincing case.
- President Maxwell was fairly level headed whenever he showed up.
- 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.
- Red Scare:
- 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.
- Reincarnation-Identifying Trait: Implied. One episode had a villain with a birthmark under one eye. He got killed, and the episode ends with a shot of a newborn baby with the same birthmark under his eye.
- Reset Button. The whole premise of the show.
- Reset-Button Suicide Mission: This is a regular occurrence, where the team will work to send Frank back in time. In the second episode 98% of the world's population, including all the main characters except Frank, die due to a virus outbreak/attack. They work to get Frank and the sphere back in time, knowing that if he succeeds they'll all be fine.
- Ripped from the Headlines
- The plot of "Last Card Up" is obviously based on the infamous Waco siege, with the differences lampshaded and conspiracy theories settled. For example, the real Waco siege involved the heavy use of tear gas; when Ramsey mentions tear gas in Seven Days, he's told that its use was already forbidden. In the real Waco siege, no-one is completely certain who fired the first gunshot; in Seven Days, it's revealed that the ATF commander ordered his men to fire first, and he is arrested for it.
- Another episode is about Ramsey's estranged brother, who turns out to be an Expy for the Unabomber. Right down to being found in a remote cabin in the Montana wilderness.
- 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.
- Save the Villain: Deloris in "Deloris Demands" murders thousands in the first timeline, threatens to do it again after Frank backsteps, and then puts Frank through a series of sadistic tortures. Even after all this, the trope is played completely straight by having Deloris accidentally wind up in a "hanging by the fingertips off a cliff" situation. Frank doesn't hesitate for a second to try saving Deloris, but Deloris refuses to accept Frank's help.
- Scannable Man - Frank is, since he was given the chrononaut's tattoo in his first mission.
- Second Law of Metafictional Thermodynamics. The White House, The Pentagon, whole countries: everything explodes.
- Set Right What Once Went Wrong: The entire point of each plot, although Parker usually functions as more of a Time Paramedic than a Time Cop.
- 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.
- Something Nauts: Active members of the Backstep program are called Chrononauts.
- Success Through Insanity: The only person able to pilot the Chronosphere is Frank Parker, inmate at a military insane asylum.
- Tae Kwon Door: Frank may as well have a black belt in this art; slamming bad guys with a suddenly opening or closing door seems to happen every other episode.
- 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
- Those Two Guys: Ramsey's two Men in Black cohorts, who are simply referred to as MIB agents 1 and 2 in the credits.
- Throwing Off the Disability: Dr. Ballard in "Walk Away". Turns into a modified "Flowers for Algernon" Syndrome plot when the phlebotinum that allows him to walk also makes him Ax-Crazy.
- Time Is Dangerous: There are so many things wrong with the Sphere. First of all, while it's very accurate in time travel, landing it where you want to be requires precise piloting. Second, Our Time Travel Is really painful. Third, well, go to the page and check out the list of Phlebotinum Breakdowns the machine suffered. That's probably not even the full list!
- Justified in that the whole program and the tech that it uses is highly experimental. Presumably, with additional time and testing, they could iron out a lot of the problems, but they have to keep backstepping instead.
- Time Title: An elite NSA agent can travel back in time by seven days to correct history that's Gone Horribly Wrong.
- Time Travel for Fun and Profit: Zig-Zagged depending on the episode. As soon as Frank realizes the time travel is real, he puts all his money on a sports bet, only for the outcome to be different the second time due to the Butterfly of Doom. It becomes a Running Gag that he keeps trying this and keeps failing. This doesn't stop him from winning a bundle at a casino in one episode, but he donates all of it to a charitable cause.
- The Tunguska Event: While the American Time Travel program got their Element 115 from the Roswell crash, the Soviet program got theirs from a certain crash in Siberia.
- Tyrant Takes the Helm: In one episode, Talmadge begins behaving oddly and the Backstep higher-ups remove him from command, thinking that he's having a nervous breakdown. They put Ramsey in charge, and promptly fits this trope to a 'T', making Donovan the lead Chrononaut, returning Frank to the mental hospital, and preparing to deport Olga back to Russia. Upon arriving at Hanson Island, Frank sees Talmadge there, and promptly escapes to inform the rest of the team. By the time he's made it back, Talmadge has just died of an undiagnosed aneruysm, leading the horrified Olga and Donovan to have the suited and helmeted Frank perform a backstep before anyone can realize what's going on. Ramsey, however, gets suspicious when 'Donovan' doesn't verbally respond to his commands, kills the launch, and finds out the truth. But when Olga reveals that the symptoms of Talmadge's 'breakdown' could be easily explained by his (surgically repairable) aneurysm, and Frank reveals that Talmadge had been dumped on Hanson Island, Ramsey turns on his new bosses and allows Frank to complete the backstep, saving Talmadge's life in the process.
- Villainous Breakdown: In "The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," Admiral Newman is obsessed with starting a war with China that he believes this needed to defend America. When the President calls to check on the situation, Parker goads Newman into a massive rant on "the Red Dragon" that shows he's completely lost it, other sailors staring in disbelief as Newman winds down to gasp that this is necessary. Even the President can tell how bad it is and relieves Newman on the spot, Newman screaming at sailors to obey him but then led away in a stunned silence.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The pilot episode had the White House being attacked by terrorists, resulting in the deaths of the president and vice president. Then, on his way to being sworn in, the terrorists managed to kill the Speaker of the House by blowing up his limouisine. After Parker backsteps, he prevents the White House attack but never does any thing to stop the assassination of the Speaker and it's never brought up again.
- Will They or Won't They?. Oh they have, several times. Problem is, Parker always has to backstep and is thus the only one who remembers him and Olga hooking up.
- 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.
- You're Insane!: Frank just agrees with anybody who says this, because he is insane.