Just binged Kindred on Hulu the past two nights. It's a time travel story unlike anything I've ever seen or read (I haven't read the Octavia Butler* novel from which it's adapted). And it's powerful, beautiful, tender, and tough, and altogether superb.
*Back in 2000, I drove down to Philadelphia to personally give M. Night Shyamalan the Science Fiction Writers of America award for best movie for The Sixth Sense (I was President of SFWA then). I met him on the set -- a comic book store -- where he was filming his next movie, Unbreakable. Samuel L. Jackson, starring in the movie, was on the set. After I gave Shyamalan the award, Jackson asked me, "when are you going to give the Grand Master Award to Octavia Butler?" I told him the award recipient had already been selected for the following year, and my term as SFWA President was ending. But Samuel L. Jackson was surely right!
But back to Kindred the TV series [some general spoilers ahead ... ]
It's the kind of time travel story in which there are no machines or devices to cause the travel, which makes Kindred science fantasy not science fiction. Time travel that's science fiction descends from H. G. Wells' The Time Machine; time travel that's science fantasy from Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. A much more recent example would be Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife. In these kinds of stories, the time traveler is pulled backwards or forwards in time by some mysterious, inchoate force. Usually, often, the pulling is beyond the time traveler's control. But if the time traveler understands what is happening and maybe why, there's a chance he or she can get the better of it, or at least to some extent control it.
In Kindred, Dana (perfectly played by Mallori Johnson) from 2016 America is pulled back to Maryland in the early 1800s, way before the Civil War. She gradually comes to understand the rules and terrain of this involuntary sojourn. She has to save a boy, Rufus, who, she eventually learns, is one of her ancestors. She needs to the same for Alice, who creates the line that will lead to Dana, with Rufus. And there's one other thing: Dana is black, Rufus is white, and Alice is black.
Though we learn the significance of Alice at the very end of the final (8th) episode, relationships between the races are the heart and soul of this story. Kevin (also very played, by Micah Stock) in the present is white, and he and Dana bond and start to fall in love, as Kevin accompanies Dana when she's pulled back in time because he's holding her. (An important time travel metaphysical rule is the time traveler takes with her anything that's she's holding -- which creates another good reason for Dana and Kevin to stay together). Thomas (good performance by Ryan Kwanten) is a slaveholder who first takes in Dana and Kevin -- thinking Dana is Kevin's slave -- and Thomas turns out to be as vicious and cruel as they come, a very articulate monster. As a story of plantation life, Kindred almost seems at times to be a slice of Roots in an alternate world in which fantastical time travel is possible, and maybe that's in fact exactly what Kindred is.
Eight episodes are definitely not enough to contain and present this wonderful, heart-wrenching and heart-warming story, and I'll be watching the next season the day that it's up. Hats off to Branden Jacobs-Jenkins for bringing this ever more timely story to television.
***Note added January 30, 2023: The Hollywood Reporter reports that Kindred was cancelled by Hulu/FX. I very much look forward to it showing up and thriving on another streaming network.