Thursday, October 01, 2009

Flash Forward

This time every year I hit my DVR to record and start watching the new shows of the season. It's rare that I pick up more than one or two news shows a year, especially given the cancellation rate of network TV shows, but I'm curious enough to want to check out the new offerings-- especially if there is a scifi twist. Flash Forward, this year's answer to "Lost," intrigued me for a couple of reasons. First, it stars reclusive British actor Joseph Fiennes ("Shakespeare in Love") and, secondly, the show is supposed to be loosely based on a novel by science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer. ("W.W.W. Wake") As the show opens, F.B.I agents Mark Benford (Fiennes) and Demetri Noh (John Cho) are in the middle of staking out an international terrorist and soon find themselves in the middle of a high speed chase. In the middle of the chase they are caught up in an event that causes them to black out. Thinking at first that the terrorist they were chasing somehow caused a local incident, using something like a dirty bomb, the agents hazily find the car they were chasing and try to sort out what happened. But as crowds gather around the two officers looking for answers, they begin to realize something much larger is going on. Despite widespread chaos, it doesn't take long to figure out the blackout was a worldwide event. For 2 minutes and 17 seconds virtually every person in the world lost consciousness and had a vision of the future. Agent Benford had a vision of being in the middle of trying to figure out the cause of the blackout, or flash forward as it has come to be known, and soon convinces his boss, agent Stanford Wedeck (Courtney B. Vance) to allow him to spearhead the effort to solve the mystery. "Flash Forward" is an interesting show for a variety of reasons. It's a typically slick TV production and has all the meaningful glances, dialogue and dramatic music I've come to associate with series television. It's clear that "Flash Forward" is being positioned to fill the void that will be left when "Lost" ends by having numerous twists and mysteries. But it also gains something by being based on a solid piece of fiction. As I understand it, "Flash Forward" the TV show has been significantly altered from the version written by Sawyer-- I haven't read the book so I can't say for sure. But, from what I have read, many important elements remain that might save the show from spinning off into abyss of never-ending plot devices. Primarily the strength of "Flash Forward" is the philosophical questions it brings up by giving everyone a glance into their own future. As expected, some people have positive, almost dreamlike visions, while others have visions that scare them to death. Still others don't have any visions at all and are left wondering if that is a premonition of their death. The show is only two episodes in and it's already dealing with whether the future is fixed or changeable and if knowing the future will cause us to try to make it happen. These aren't new questions but it still makes for good television. The show certainly isn't flawless. I found myself bugged by the fact that there didn't seem to be that much chaos for a world-wide blackout. The main character's wife is a doctor-- and she still manages to make it home in time for dinner. She even drives her car home and something tells me the roads wouldn't be clear if everyone in the world was knocked unconscious for two minutes. That kind of lack of credibility does tend to take me out of the show; though I am willing to allow that the writers chose not to focus on the initial chaos and get straight to the meat of the story. My other, minor, complaint is that Fiennes, who I did like in "Shakespeare in Love," has a tendency to talk without moving his lips and it makes him hard to understand at times. What can I say, I like my actors to enunciate. Like most new shows I haven't come to a firm conclusion as to whether or not I'll stick with "Flash Forward." I wasn't blown away like I was when I first watched "Battlestar Galactica," but I'm not turned off the way I was when I tried to watch "N.C.I.S. Los Angeles" (maybe it's me, but that show was awful). I am certainly interested enough to stick with it for awhile and see what new mysteries appear and, if I had to guess, I'd say that "Flash Forward" will be around for a few seasons.


T.D. Newton said...

I found myself bugged by the fact that there didn't seem to be that much chaos for a world-wide blackout.

I couldn't agree more. Watching the first episode, I was appalled by the CALM every character showed. Every single character seemed perfectly okay that everyone on the planet had this "shared experience" and now they were just supposed to figure out what it meant. I will probably keep watching, but this really blew some of the plausibility for me.

JG said...

I see what you're saying, but I would have been more annoyed at world-wide pandemonium. We were watching an old episode of 24, where a bomb goes off in the middle of the desert in Nevada (a contained explosion where no one was hurt), and they cut to Georgia where the National Guard is having to occupy suburban neighborhoods because middle class people are beating up random Middle Eastern-looking people at will? This didn't even happen on 9/12/2001. I think back to times like that, and people generally behave better in real life than they are portrayed in movies and TV after "disasters." So the fact that the world didn't go to pot right after this massive blackout event that people had more people stunned than angry (as you would expect from something like a terrorist attack) was to me a breath of fresh air. But that's just me.

SQT said...


Yeah, they seemed rather matter-or-fact didn't they? The recovery time was pretty remarkable.


I see where you're going, but I have to disagree a little bit. 9/11 was a fairly big event, but it was still isolated to certain areas on the East Coast, and it sent shock waves across the world. I was riveted by it and was glued to the TV for days and it didn't affect me personally. Can you imagine the pandemonium of a world-wide event? The sheer number of casualties would staggering. A two minute blackout? Every plane in the air would stand a real chance of crashing in that time-- or, without air traffic control-- hitting each other. Every road in the world would be snarled with accidents and victims. I can't imagine how crazy the hospitals would be. And any office of the law, like the main characters, probably wouldn't have the freedom to do much of anything other than crowd control for weeks.

I would have just liked to see a little of that for the sake of setting up the story credibly. That's all.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I don't know. I suppose I will check it out online and watch three or four episodes in a row and see how it grabs me. I think the problem science fiction has had on television is that it often has to be dumbed down to suit the lowest common majority.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've enjoyed the first two epsisodes. I thought they moved past the initial phase pretty quickly too, but I think they had to for the sake of ratings. They had to get into the mystery or they'd lose a lot of audience.

Steve Malley said...

I shall provide two reasons for the calm and orderly blackout:

1) The aliens/mad scientists/us-in-the-future-sending-messages-back-to-our-past who are behind the transmission wired it for the least possible disruption.

2) Budget and attention. Pandemonium is expensive, and viewer's short little spans of attention might lead them to believe (from, say, ten minutes of ep.1) that they were watching a movie about plane crashes and civil disturbance.

Yes, #1 is a cop-out, but it's a cop-out that lets the writers get to those important themes in a hurry.

And if not #1, then they could deal with the problems of #2 in a cheap, off-screen way, eg. 'Boy, those car- and plane-crashes sure were something, weren't they?'

SQT said...


They tried to show a bit. There was a little CGI. Enough to suggest some fallout. I think the wife driving home like it was no big deal was a bit much though.

Anonymous said...

Well you dont need 2 dumb scifi down for me however i think enough attention was spent on the fallout. this show is awesome after 4 or 5 episodes. I hope that whatever happens they five it a finale it is due when the time comes or i may just start biycotting new shows all together.