The Fall Season: Flash Forward

ZOË RICE: I am already upset at Flash Forward. More specifically, I am upset that I cannot flash forward a year to when the whole first season is on DVD and I can sit down and watch it 20 hours straight because, Oh my God what happens next. This whole waiting a week for each episode thing may present a serious problem.

The first thing you need to know: one October day, the whole world passes out for two minutes 17 seconds. Here is also the first time (of many) you must be willing to suspend some disbelief. Because there’s smoke and fire and destruction everywhere. Car accidents, sure, but how Big Ben in London catches fire and remains on fire four hours later? I’m thinking that’s just to look cool.

Our hero, FBI agent and recovering drunk Mark Benford, seems the  first to realize that he didn’t just pass out. He had a dream, except not a dream. More like a memory. And in his memory, he sees a date–April 29, six months in the future. What’s more, others saw this date in their dreams too. Slowly but surely, details from different people’s flashes corroborate that they all saw 2-plus minutes of their lives 6 months in the future, the exact same time and date. Some are blissful–Mark’s AA sponsor sees his dead daughter, and she’s alive. Some are awful–Mark is drinking again, working on a case; his devoted wife sees herself in the future with another man; Mark’s FBI partner (Harold, of Harold and Kumar) sees nothing…so will he be dead? Some of our characters dread that their flash forwards may be true. Others dread that they may not be.

Brilliantly (plot-wise) and conveniently for the FBI, in Mark’s flash forward, the case he’s working on…is this one, the secret to what caused the flash. He’s got a big board with index cards and pictures and clues to a puzzle no one’s seen yet. On April 29, 2010 at 10PM he’s scanning the board in his office, drink in hand. Suddenly, he is not alone. Two men sneak in all covert-ninja like, dressed in black, with creepy masks on, holding big guns. They’re after Mark. One has a distinctive tattoo with 3 stars. Now, equipped with all this future information and several key names and phrases from the board in his flash–”D. Gibbons,” “Blue hand,” “Baby doll photograph”–Mark can begin his investigation. Who did this? How? And why? We now have a puzzle to solve. I am so friggin’ hooked on puzzles.

And here’s the craziest, creepiest piece so far: While scanning video footage from all around the world during the black out, Mark’s colleague finds a clip from a baseball game. The entire stadium is still, everyone slumped in their seats, except for one tiny man or woman way in the distance. A black figure, zoomed in, fuzzy. Awake and walking.

Flash Forward has been billed as the replacement for Lost when it goes off the air after the 2010 season, and I can see why. Like in Lost, our characters endure a communal, unexplained phenomenon, and they must try to figure out what’s happening while struggling to preserve their lives and happiness. But so far, while Lost delved even early on into forces that seemed supernatural, Flash Forward has taken a more grounded approach. There’s no Fox Mulder crying “Aliens did it!” here. You get the sense that answers are out there, and it’s just a matter of time…and multiple seasons…until we find out what they are.

Which brings me to my main question about Flash Forward. Six months is about the length of one television season. So…what happens on the real April 29, 2010? Will this be the kind of Lost-like situation where five years into the series, only about 40 TV days have passed? That’s what I’m hoping. Flash Forward has a tricky task ahead: How to give enough answers to keep people riveted, but not so many that they’ve given away all the good stuff too early on and so the twists and turns become ridiculous? It’s an almost impossible balance few TV series have gotten right–even Lost has had its plot foibles–but my hopes are high. Please, Flash Forward, please engage us in an unexplained mystery that will keep us on the edge of our seats every single week. I’m ready for it.

TED BERG: If you read this website with any regularity, you’ve probably noticed a theme in my reviews of pilot episodes of television shows. I’m often unimpressed, but I’m normally willing to watch it at least one more time because pilot episodes are often, by nature, too caught up with character and scenario introductions to serve as an adequate representation of the show.

Then there’s Flash Forward.

Holy crap.

This looks to be a completely and spectacularly awesome television program. I’m something of a junkie for time-travel narratives, dime-store philosophy, hot people and massive explosions, and Flash Forward seamlessly blends all four.

The premise is unique, but straightforward: Everyone (well, nearly everyone) on earth blacks out at precisely the same time, for two minutes and 17 seconds, and while they’re out, they get a glimpse of two minutes and 17 seconds of a day six months in the future.

“Will I still have my strong chin in six months? Absolutely.”

“Will I still have my gorgeous breasts? Of course.”

It’s not all so simple, of course. A (hot) alcoholic sees himself drinking again. A (hot) married woman sees herself with another man. A (hot) babysitter sees herself committing a crime. A (hot) suicidal man sees himself alive.

In fact, from the looks of it, it appears that most of the characters’ lives will change tremendously in the next six months. Except, of course, the FBI Agent who, comically, will be reading the paper on the toilet at this precise time six months from now. (SPOILER ALERT: There will still be newspapers in six months!) And the FBI agent who, tragically, sees nothing at all.

The fallout from everyone in the world passing out at the same time wreaks havoc all over Los Angeles, as planes crash and helicopters explode and many things randomly catch fire. Then there’s the way people start behaving once they know what’s bound to happen to them in six months.

Shakespearean actor Joseph Fiennes has a reputation for being picky about parts, so it’s either puzzling or promising that he signed on to play Mark, the quick-witted FBI agent with a closet full of skeletons and a heart full of gold. He’s the one in charge of figuring out how it all went down, because, you know, when everyone on earth is affected by the same crime, it’s always up to one dude and his (hot) loyal assistants to sort it all out.

I’m being too snarky. This show was amazing. I was locked in from the moment of the flashforward, heart pounding, mind racing, the whole thing. There are plenty of bad shows with good premises, but the writing and acting here backed up the novel concept. My wife, with no intention of watching, got sucked in from two rooms away. It was mesmerizing.

(Apparently the concept came from a novel, by the way. One by Robert Sawyer, written in 1996 but set in 2009. How closely or loosely the show follows the book I will not know until the end of its run; I’m unwilling to read the book’s Wikipedia page for fear of spoilers.)

ABC is pretty clearly trying to capture some of the Lost demographic with Flash Forward, and, as a member of that demographic, I’m in. The only possible downsides I can see is if they try to drag it out too long — obviously the show has to be of limited length, given the premise — or if the upcoming episodes fail to live up to the pilot. I can’t imagine that happening, though, so Flash Forward will replace Community on my Thursday night must-TiVo list.

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