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Future Tense: An Advance Review of ABC's "FlashForward"

Is it the next Lost?

That seems to be the question on many people's minds regarding ABC's new ensemble drama series FlashForward, which launches tomorrow evening and is based on Robert J. Sawyer's novel of the same name. After all, despite the many protestations of the actors and creators of the series that FlashForward isn't at all like Lost, there are some similarities on the surface. A group of disparate and ethnically diverse individuals united by a staggering and life-altering phenomenon? Check. Said phenomenon possibly caused by some sci-fi wackiness? Check. Non-linear storytelling that reveals information about the characters? Check again. Questions about fate versus free will? Youbetcha. Dominic Monaghan and Sonya Walger? Um, yeah.

That said, FlashForward is a different beast than Lost, which wraps its run beginning in January. When it began, Lost was ostensibly about the survivors of a plane crash on a seriously creepy island; while there were whispers of sci-fi elements in the pilot (polar bears, a monster in the jungle), the main throughline was about survival and the formation of a working community out of the chaos of an inciting incident.

FlashForward, on the other hand, tells us right off the bat that we're experiencing something steeped in the heady world of science fiction. In this case, it's the titular flash forward experienced by the entire world population for two minutes and seventeen seconds, a loss of consciousness that leads to the death of millions of people and creates chaos around the globe. When the survivors awake, they slowly realize that they were given a glimpse into their own futures six months down the line. Why six months? That's a mystery for another day, save the fact that the exact moment witnessed by everyone is of huge significance.

Just what caused the worldwide blackout is also being investigated. When the series begins, we see our sprawling cast going about their lives, unaware of what's to come. Those characters include Joseph Fiennes' recovering alcoholic FBI Agent Mark Benford, who with his partner Demetri Noh (John Cho) are on the trail of some terrorists mounting an attack on Los Angeles when The Event occurs. When they come to, the city is in chaos and both men are shaken. Whether there's any correlation between the planned terror attack and the global blackout remains unseen but the woman that they apprehend after the blackout remains a person of interest. Mark, meanwhile, is desperate to make sure his wife, Doctor Olivia Benford (Sonya Walger), and his young daughter Charlie are safe.

I won't reveal here what each of the characters experience in their flash-forwards (you spoiler-lovers can read about it in my advance review of the pilot script from last year, though there are some changes) but I will say that they all circle around the same exact moment in time: April 29th, 2010 at 10 pm PT. It's due to this fact that Mark and Demetri find themselves assigned to investigate what's being called the Mosaic, a collection of people's memories of future events, corroborated and cross-referenced to find some sort of pattern emerging from the details. Just what or who caused the blackout? For what purpose? And what will happen in six months' time?

Given that the events depicted in the flash-forwards are of incidents that have yet to occur, the series delves head-first into the murky waters of a fate versus free-will discussion. Just because we saw these things happen doesn't mean that they will necessary occur, right? Can we ever fight fate? Or is life pre-determined? Will future events play out as the characters saw them or can they alter the course of destiny? For some, the future holds frustrating twists of fate, but for others, there's the seductive possibility of happiness. Which in a word, leads to some major conflict between those who want the future to happen and those who don't. Hmmm....

The pilot ("No More Good Days"), directed by David S. Goyer (who co-created the series with Brannon Braga and Jessika Borsiczky), introduces us to the main characters we'll be following all season. They include those played by the aforementioned Joseph Fiennes, John Cho, and Sonya Walger, as well as Courtney B. Vance's FBI supervisor Stanford Wedeck, Zachary Knighton's suicidal Dr. Bryce Varley; grieving father Aaron Stark (Brian F. O'Byrne), FBI agent Janice Hawk (Christine Woods), Jack Davenport's mysterious professor Lloyd Simcoe, and babysitter Nicole Kirby (Peyton List). (Dominic Monaghan will join the series a few episodes down the line.)

There are initially some standouts among the cast: John Cho is fantastic as Demetri Noh, Mark's terrified sidekick. Planning a wedding with his fiancée, Demetri is staggered by the implications of what he glimpsed--or didn't--during his blackout and there's a fear and poignancy to his interactions that already make his character a favorite. He also manages to steal the spotlight from lead Joseph Fiennes every time they appear on-screen together. Fiennes isn't bad as Mark Benford, but he seems to lack the emotional gravity and charisma necessary to make his leading man character engaging and interesting. (Just compare his performance to that of Matthew Fox's in the pilot of Lost to see what I mean.) Given the overall strength of the cast, it feels slightly like quibbling to point out Fiennes but I was hoping for more of a smoldering presence than he provides here.

My other complaint is that some of the dialogue is distractingly clunky at times. There's a moment when Christine Woods' Janice actually uses the series' title to describe her experiences during the blackout that made me groan aloud. (Which is no fault of Woods' really; I think she shines here in the few scenes she has in the pilot episode.) I understand that there's a lot of exposition to get through in the opening installment--particularly one that's only an hour rather than a two-hour backdoor--but I still want some sophistication and slickness to the dialogue rather than feel like I'm being hit over the head with the grace of an anvil being dropped from twelve stories up.

That said, I do think that FlashForward displays a hell of a lot of promise, offering a twisty puzzle of a drama that's stuffed with engaging metaphysical mysteries, trippy sci-fi phenomena, and enough overarching mythology to keep Lost fans more than entertained during the long slog until the series returns next year. The producers have been upfront about the fact that they have a five-year plan for the series and will provide answers to some mysteries as the plot ticks along. Despite my lack of confidence in Fiennes as an anchoring lead and some of the pilot's small flaws, I also think that FlashForward is a full head and shoulders above just about every other new drama series this fall.

Just what did you see? Come back on Friday to discuss the pilot episode and what you thought of FlashForward.

The first seventeen minutes of FlashForward's pilot episode are available at Hulu.com or right below:



FlashForward airs tomorrow night at 8 pm ET/PT on ABC.

Comments

OldDarth said…
Looking forward - no pun intended - to this. Have to mention the series is based on the book of the same name written by local ie Toronto based, Hugo and Nebula award winning SF writer Robert J. Sawyer.

If you like to read and you like the premise of this series,highly recommend you check out his other books. Calculating God, MindScan, and the first book in his InterNet trilogy - Wake is just out.

Look for his following books Watch and Wonder - making it the WWW trilogy - in the years to come.
Jacob Nahin said…
EASTER EGG:

Oceanic Airlines sign spotted in background at 6:24-25.
Heatherette said…
I think that all of the hype around the show being "the next Lost" could possibly hurt it. Lost was completely unique and no one expected it to become the phenomenon that it did. Now, they are trying to recreate that formula and it's just not going to happen. I think Flash Forward looks like a decent show but I am not going to get my expectations up too high.
kat said…
I am looking forward to this show - I love the premise.
I am not expecting Lost cloned and hope that the viewers give it a chance to be its own show.

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