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Second Take: ABC's "FlashForward"

Remember yesterday how I mentioned that second episodes are the true test of a series and how they can be a better gauge of an ongoing series' strengths and weaknesses than than the pilot?

I went into last night's episode of FlashForward ("White to Play"), written by David S. Goyer and Marc Guggenheim and directed by David S. Goyer, really wanting to like the series, despite some reservations I had about the pilot episode (which I reviewed here) and some of the narrative and casting choices. But I always go into a second episode with an open mind as it offers the writers an opportunity to tweak some issues than may not have worked as well as possible in the series opener.

I have to say that I was pretty disappointed.

I'm not jumping off the FlashForward train just yet but I continue to have some serious issues with the series and last night's installment did little to quell these feelings.

For one, I'm still not engaged at all with Joseph Fiennes' Mark Benford. There's an iciness to Fiennes' performance that's hard to get past and I'm not really feeling much warmth or charisma emanating from him. Which is a shame as Benford is nominally the lead character in an ensemble cast but for two episodes now he's the least interesting element of the story. (I'm far more captivated by Christine Woods' Janis Hawk and during commercial breaks half-imagined what the series would be if she were our entry-point to the action.)

Second, I was nearly ripping out my hair from the extraneous exposition and constant flashbacks to last week's episode. Yes, I understand that this is the second episode and the network wants to make sure everyone is aware of every little nuance but to repeatedly show us what we saw only a week ago had little subtlety or finesse. Instead, it served to frustrate me beyond belief that the network views its audience as simpletons who need to be told exactly what's going on at every second. I hated it when Fringe did this for the majority of its first season and I hate it when FlashForward does it here. Given that ABC has shown the pilot episode twice already and promoted the hell out it (and it's available for streaming and download in several locations), I think we can dispense with the constant reminders of what happened last week and focus on this week's plots, okay?

There's an odd tonal inconsistency to FlashForward that's off-putting to say the least. Given the grimness of its overarching cataclysmic plot, it's beyond strange to me to see the action go off the rails with gross-out humor. It was bad enough in the pilot episode with Wedeck's bathroom-set flash-forward but to see that play out here and have it escalate with a urine-soaked mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was jumping over a line that didn't need to be crossed. And then there was the over the top scene of person of interest D. Gibbons, her cupcakes, and her bizarre phone conversation, which culminated in her semi-comically shoving a cupcake into her gob. Yes, there's a place for some humor to lighten the tone but when it comes out of left-field and is so broad, it's completely disconcerting and out of place.

There's still some clunkiness to some of the dialogue and the plotting. It was completely predictable that the female Sheriff Benford and Noh encounter in Pigeon, Utah would wind up dead within the hour after she tells Noh that, like him, she saw nothing in her flash-forward. (Dun dun dun.) Though I was weirded out that Noh said that she told him this "five minutes" before she was killed, even though that scene took place during the day and her murder--at the hands of the faux D. Gibbons--took place at night. Strange. And would D. Gibbons really have gone to the trouble of not only rigging the toy factory with a huge quantity of explosives but also rigging the dolls to sing "Ring Around the Rosie" when the motion sensors were activated? Really? Besides for a need to protect his work--and the fact that he was awake during the mass blackout--this mystery man also has a need to creep out potential intruders as well?

Once again, questions of fate versus free will come into play. Benford burns Charlie's friendship bracelet after he's questioned by Noh about whether he wants the future to happen... but it seems fairly obvious that Charlie will just make him another. I am, however, more intrigued by Olivia's dilemma after she comes face-to-face with Lloyd Simcoe, the man in her vision with whom she appeared to be in a romantic relationship in the future. Sonya Walger nails the combination of curiosity and fear that Olivia would be experiencing but her attempts to see if daughter Charlie recognizes Lloyd backfire somewhat, though it's clear that Charlie does know Lloyd's injured son Dylan.

As I said before, I'm not giving up on FlashForward just yet but this episode didn't reel me in either. I'll be curious to see whether next week's episode shows any signs of improvement but if the series keeps on doing what it's doing, it doesn't take a flash-forward to see that I'll be losing interest rather quickly.

Next week on FlashForward ("137 Sekunden"), Mark and Janis travel to Germany to speak with an imprisoned Nazi who claims to have knowledge about the blackouts, and an anonymous tip leads Demetri to believe his deepest fears about his future; Aaron pleads with Mark to help him get the approval to have his daughter's body exhumed in order to re-test her DNA and confirm the identity of the remains.


Mrs. James Ford said…
I completely agree with you. Luckily next week's episode is NOT directed by Goyer so hopefully it will be better.
Howard Moon said…
I think you summed it up excellently. The pilot wasn't perfect but at least it held my interest. This second episode, however, left a bad taste in my mouth. Way too much exposition and trying way too hard. That thing with the dolls was ridiculous. If next week's episode isn't any better, that will be it for me.
Cathy said…
The premise still captivates me, but I'm with you on most of these points. I'm bummed about J. Fiennes as well, where's the fire and charisma we know the actor has? He runs the gamut from morose to perturbed, which seems like an inappropriately narrow range of emotions for a world-wide disaster. And re: exposition, during the show I tweeted "Okay okay we get it, he doesn't want that future to happen!"

I like the ambition of mixing scifi/action with human relationship drama, but it's not the right mix, yet. I'll keep watching, though. (--aka ccatko)
atd said…
I agree with much of the review - a couple of other points -
There seems to be an influx of people from other countries "acting american" (simon baker,toni collette, and hugh laurie immediately come to mind). This is great because the actors are great, but when you've watched them with their normal voice like Joseph Fiennes (in Shakespeare in love), Sonya Walger (lost) and Brian F. O'Byrne (brotherhood), then it's hard to watch them try to keep up the american accent - for me, it's especially painful when watching the AA sessions.

I think there needs to be some suspension of faith regarind some of the comments like Noh sayin that he spoke to the woman 5 minuts before she was killed.

One thing I didn't care for is Benford explaining why he put on his daughter's bracelet. Why couldn't he just put it on the other arm and accomplish both things? Keep his daughter happy and tempt fate.

I agree with the over-the-top gross out humor.
I'm torn between this being another Lost or another "The Nine". I regret feeling that this is more like that latter, yet aspires to be ther former. Which is also frustrating - a show trying to copy another doesn't usually last. innovative shows just happen.
Unknown said…
I'm bugged by the gigantic plot holes, such as why did the three of them go into the factory alone when they had a huge SWAT team with them a few minutes before?

I fear this series will fall prey to the same issues that caused me to ignore Fringe and Lost: one large mystery that's never solved (especially if the show's canceled).
Five said…
I actually like the show. It has a fixed date, so you know that *something* has to be solved by then, and with such a strong cast, I find it difficult to believe that the network didn't ask for a "how it will all end" scenario if it, a) doesn't get picked up for a 2nd season (Can it be wrapped up in 13 episodes?), or b) if it does get a second season.

I think it still needs to play out a bit and give something more to get involved with, but it seems to be heading that way.
Anonymous said…
yeah it's kinda boring. i want more focus on the mystery because their characters are boring, with the exception of John Cho. There was something off-putting about Benford and you nailed it. The stuff with his wife and daughter is especially snooze worthy. Think I'll tivo it this week and "flash forward" through it.
Anonymous said…
Well the difference with Lost and this show is Lost had great characters from the start, this show only has the mystery.
Tonya Ricucci said…
For a show with a great premise, it's amazingly dull. I wanted to like it, but found myself fast forwarding through parts of it, esp anything with Benford. I'll try it once more, but that's likely it.
Anonymous said…
What I'd like to know is what posh train that was. Seriously, this is LA, who rides the train? And it definitely was not Amtrak or Metrolink.

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