Unless you’ve been living under a rock, don’t watch television, or have been generally avoiding everything to do with ABC for the last several months, you’ve definitely heard of Flash Forward. The premise is simple: One day everyone on the planet blacks out for two minutes, seventeen seconds and has a vision of six months in the future. The show is based on a Robert J. Sawyer novel, though I suspect that the show will only take the framework of the novel and tell the story a different way.
We’re not going to belabor the Lost comparisons (despite the shows sharing a basic framework and two actors), but Flash Forward opens in the wake of a disaster. We see Joseph Fiennes climbing out of an overturned vehicle, looking out at flaming wreckage and we quick flash back to earlier that day when everything was tranquil. There’s a number of quick character introductions of folks who we’re not going to remember for a couple of episodes, John Cho, and Penny from Lost.
Then we get to it. The two minutes and seventeen seconds of flash forward. The trouble, and I can’t express how happy I am that the logical result of blacking out for two minutes actually occurred, is that when everyone on the planet blacks out for the same two minutes a lot of bad stuff is going to happen. Cars and planes will crash, people in need of desperate medical attention won’t get it, and pretty much everything else that could happen probably will.
Los Angeles looks like it was the victim of a terrorist attack. It looks like the apocalypse. What is beautiful here, from a realism perspective, is the reactions of the survivors on the freeway. Shock, fear, a bit of terror, and the belief that the United States has just been hit, and hit bad by terrorists. The revelation that San Diego has also been hit badly hammers that home. Viewers at home who have seen a single preview know that this is bigger than a terrorist attack, but that’s an honest response and it resonates.
Now, as awesome as the wreckage of America is from a visual perspective, there needs to be a human story for Flash Forward to work. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the mystery of the flash forward will be what keeps people talking and thinking about how it all pieces together, but the show needs characters who are interesting and characters to care about. I’m not convinced we have them yet. Joseph Fiennes’s cop is ostensibly the lead, and he gets the first full flash forward of the series, but he’s a fairly neutral character. He’s sort of like the lead character in some video games who is a fairly blank slate for the players to put themselves in that leading role. That doesn’t work so well for television and I suspect that the writers have much more in store for the character. Yeah, Penny’s the wife and a surgeon and yeah, she reveals that in her flash forward she was with another man, but what is lacking in this first episode is anyone to really care about. We’re supposed to care about Joseph Fiennes and Penny and the awesome John Cho (more about him in future columns), but there is just so much going on in the episode that we don’t. Or, more specifically, I didn’t.
What works is that the initial premise is more than enough to hook me through the first episode and into the second.
The video footage of people dropping is chilling and the story-tease of the video from Tiger Stadium in Detroit of a man walking while everyone else was blacked out is quite excellent. It reveals there is something larger is out there. Of course there is, because there wouldn’t be a show without it, but it’s an early glimpse. The writers / producers could have waited to show that and very little would have changed. Except the hope that the writers know what they’re doing. The obvious comparison here will always be with Lost, and with Lost it took until the announcement of the show’s end date for viewers to have honest hope that the writers have things under control.
We need to know that right away. Now. We need hope and the promise that this is all figured out. That there is more than a season’s worth of thought and that there is a defined destination.
It’s a big introduction episode. Who are the characters, why should we care about them, and what the hell happened? We’ll see.
Is it good? It’s interesting. It has the potential to be good. It has the potential to be really good.