Shiny Shelf


By Stephen Lavington on 12 November 2009

Let’s get one thing clear from the get go: ‘FlashForward’ is a rip-off of ‘Lost’, just as ‘Fringe’ is a rip-off of the ‘X-files’ and ‘How I Met your Mother’ is a rip-off of ‘Friends’. If ‘Fringe’ ‘borrows’ the idea of paranormal FBI investigators and ‘HIMYM’ takes the Manhattan young-adult milieu into the zeroes then ‘FlashForward’, like its island-based forebear, aspires to combine personal drama and continuity heavy plot-arcs in the gradual unravelling of a stupendously monolithic high concept: what if everyone (or almost everyone) in the world fell unconscious and got a two-and-a-half minute glimpse of their lives six months into the future?

Well, what if? What if everyone grew an extra pair of arms? What if the moon turned into a giant rubber ball and bounced across the world? What if John turned on Edward on live TV, cracked his skull open on the judges’ desk and began scooping great handfuls of gooey Irish twin-brother brain into his mouth? What bloody if?

This has been the downfall of several other contenders to the ‘Lost’ crown (‘Surface’, ‘Threshold’ and ‘Jericho’ spring immediately to mind), because there is a very real danger that audiences will either not care ‘what if’ or will rapidly become frustrated in the production team’s concentration on the ‘what’ rather than the ‘why’ – this latter being the hook that only ‘Lost’ has successfully (and only just) kept dug into the attention of TV viewers over the last five years. ‘FlashForward’ is only five episodes in and has only just had a second season confirmed, so may still fall victim to both or either of these. However, early signs are encouraging.

Firstly, the concept is high enough to be interesting without being baffling. Yes, it’s bonkers, but it gives scope for storytelling both at the personal level and the wider world-building level. The former is surprisingly mature (especially when compared with some of the shock twist flashbacks in ‘Lost’ – “OMG he’s in a wheelchair!”) and the core relationship between a recovering alcoholic FBI agent (who has seen his own relapse) and his wife (who has seen her adultery) is genuinely well-paced, well-written and well-acted. There is scope for humour, pathos, and mystery depending on who’s flashforward is involved and though the whole idea of a ‘flash forward’ is massively contrived as a plot-device, it is capably handled so as not to grate.

This is largely due to the second reason: a good cast who are playing the whole ridiculous thing with a collective straight face. Joseph Fiennes rocks a questionable US accent as the above-mentioned federal former-boozer. Courtney B Vance does his best Keith David impression as Fiennes’ chief while John Cho plays a colleague who had no flash-forward – series shorthand for death in the next six months. There’s a scattering of supporting talent with former hobbit and ‘Lost’ alumnus Dominic Monaghan leading the pack as a pug-ugly, gurning skinhead British physicist who may be evil and has quite a way with the ladies (and is, incidentally, ace). Jack Davenport’s simpering turn as a recent widower is an also-ran who may yet develop interesting depth.

Thirdly, the production has built a compelling world. The flash forwards did not just cause a mass fainting episode, but through this (and its effect on planes, cars etc) caused several million deaths. Indeed, the external shots reference this with widespread (if rather poor) CG renditions of destruction. This seems minor window-dressing but actually creates a compelling sense of urgency – there is a feeling that the reason for the blackouts must be discovered in case they happen again.

Fourthly, the plotting is tight and (at the moment) appears directed to a known end. ‘Fringe’ learned from ‘Lost’ in not playing its cards too close to its chest, and ‘FlashForward’ appears to have also picked up on the need to reveal things to viewers. If the show proves successful there may be pressure to hold back on the question-answering but it is to be hoped that everyone concerns realises that this is a show of limited long-term potential and so don’t make the mistake of holding back.

Finally though the concept is treated with seriousness in-world there is an enjoyable gloss of entertainment to the production, most notable in the occasional use of music: a bus rolling gently into a lake during the blackout to the strains of Bjork – check; an awesomely gratuitous slow-motion gunfight to ‘Like a Rolling Stone; – check. It’s a fun show to watch.

But, like so much else on TV and DVD, that’s both its strength and its weakness. It’s inconsequential, it won’t win awards, it’s unlikely anyone will even remember it in a few years – hell, chances are if you’re not watching it already you won’t start now. Like all of its ilk, ‘FlashForward’ would, in the past, have aspired to the watercooler status usurped first by reality TV and then by talent shows and ‘Apprentice’-a-likes.

Now this sort of TV lives for the DVD release. What to say in this case? Don’t bother with catching up on Five, wait until it finishes and then, being careful to avoid spoilers, find out if the ending was well-received. If so, gorge on box-sets. If cancelled or it ended poorly – *cough* ‘Battlestar Galactica’ *cough* – then avoid.

UnlikeĀ ’The X-Files’, ‘Friends’ or even ‘Lost’ (in season one at least) this is not must-see TV but a maybe-buy DVD.

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By Stephen Lavington

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