JOHN S: FlashForward premiered on ABC last night (with an encore for those who missed it tonight at 8), and Tim and John S watched–we weren’t lying when we said FlashForward was the #9 reason to be excited for the Fall TV Season. So Tim, what did you think?
TIM: First off, you said it was #9. I would have had it at like #3, behind the return of Survivor and Degrassi’s Nina Dobrev in The Vampire Diaries. Those are really the only two things that could excite me more than a show in which the presentation of a friendship bracelet is accompanied by pulse-poundingly dramatic music.
JOHN S: Yeah, there was a TON of pulse-pounding dramatic music in this show. It was like 80% of the episode.
TIM: Right, and that’s one of the things I kind of expected. It reminded me a lot of the premieres of 24 and, predictably, Lost, in its explosive and perhaps overly dramatic tone. At the same time, I think that’s what shows have to do these days to survive: You rarely build an audience when you’re building characters. One of the smarter things FlashForward did was to avoid breaking for a commercial for 15 minutes. By that point, we had already seen the en medias res opening, the flash back four hours, the blackout, and the realization that it was global. It lays most of its cards on the table in those 15 minutes (two big ones left to be played later in the episode) and tries to hook you in as quickly as possible (like 24 does with its four hours in two nights with limited commercial interruptions).
Was it too dramatic? Ehh, a show that’s so conceptually driven is almost required to get it all out there in its first episode. If FlashForward were to save some of its expository twists (something like the fact that the blackout was indeed global or that everyone not only blacked out, but also saw a vision of their future) for later episodes, it probably wouldn’t create the same kind of buzz leading in. It’s not like you’re going to draw in viewers with your “…AND THEY SEE THE FUTURE!” trailers and then save that information for later.
Am I making any sense?
JOHN S: Yeah, I think that, story-wise, there really wasn’t a way for them to hold back a lot of the cards they revealed: If everyone blacks out and sees the future at the same time, it wouldn’t take that long to figure it out.
With that said, though, when you hook an audience with car chases, explosions, etc., then the challenge becomes how to sustain that tension. Some that was done with an excess of philosophizing (that bit from the baby-sitter about how “God did this” because He was “punishing us” was a little much), but I think overall it was handled well. The reveal in the final scene was, while not totally unpredictable, enticing.
The popular way to view the whole “sustaining interest” thing is to talk about how important characters are, but that’s mostly bullshit (Friday Night Lights has good characters, but no hook). For a show like this, it’s all about how they spin the hook. The “high-concept” show has been big this decade, more or less beginning with 24. Lost, probably the most successful example, took the same type of pilot (explosions, lots of action, a cliffhanger ending, and a guy on fire in the first scene) and went in an incredibly interesting and unusual direction. The show wouldn’t be a success without great actors and character, of course, but the “hook” is what makes in interesting.
I, for one, love time-travel stories, the “hook” of this show, but they can be very risky. Heroes, for example, faltered after relying on time-travel a number of times. So far I think they’ve handled it well, but they’re going to have to get beyond the “If we see the future, can we change it?” dilemma that bogs down so many time-travel narratives…
TIM: Yeah, time is really, really fascinating and really, really hit-or-miss. When you start toying with the basic rules that govern existence, you have to make sure you stick to them rigidly (Hiro’s ability in Heroes [see what I did there?] always begged the question, “Why doesn’t Hiro just go back in time to stop [insert catastrophe]?”, just as raising Jack Sparrow from the dead in the Pirates sequels means no one’s death can henceforth be taken seriously).
Ideally, FlashForward will take one of two routes: 1. Either everything comes true on April 29 (a Thursday…hmm…no wonder it wasn’t six months exact); 2. Nothing really comes true. Of course, it’s almost certain FF will reach for the middle ground.
I’m interested in seeing just how many characters are featured throughout the season. It’s clear right now that the main plotline will be Mark’s attempts to determine exactly what happened and why. The secondary plot will be his attempt to save his marriage with Olivia. How deep, however, will the show dive into John Cho’s imminent wedding to Zoe, that other guy’s vision of his resurrected daughter, the babysitter’s religiosity (a predictable and, you must say, realistic approach for a single character to take), Bryce’s renewed zest for life…. You see where I’m going with this, right?
JOHN S: Yeah, I think FlashForward has handled some of these dilemmas really well initially by just saying: “Look, nobody’s GOING to the future. But everyone gets to see it, briefly.” It eliminates the Hiro/Butterfly Effect problem. It also puts every character on the same playing field, since it’s not relying on special powers.
I do think it’ll be interesting to see how the characters are balanced. I would guess that, since the show is so clearly modeled after Lost, the show will follow a similar route, with Mark as a Jack Shephard-type protagonist. In other words, a main character who is really just the head of an ensemble, and who can disappear for episodes at a time. This could be a strength, since some of the secondary characters seemed compelling (I liked pretty much all the FBI guys, but not the doctors or baby-sitter). At the same time, the “high-concept” shows get in trouble when they start emphasizing characters like Kim on 24, Maya on Heroes, and Charlie on Lost.
TIM: You’re so anti-Maya. So justifiably, deservedly, tenably anti-Maya.
In an admittedly small sample size, I don’t think any of the actors here–Joseph Fiennes included–are primed and/or capable of carrying the show (as Kiefer Sutherland and Matt Fox are sometimes called on to do, and as Milo Ventimiglia regularly fails to do). Most of the reviews called Fiennes “stiff,” and I’d just say he was “unremarkable.” He doesn’t seem to take anything off the table, but he isn’t adding much. John Cho also fell disappointingly flat to me. I can’t believe I didn’t like him or Ken Jeong on Community on the same night. What a disaster.
The two actors that got me most excited were Jack Davenport, primed to save his career after Pirates, and the kangaroo. It had been awhile since I had seen a kangaroo, and I had forgotten how weird they look. I mean, you’ve got to think their back has to start hurting at some point, right?
JOHN S: Yeah, I had no problems with Fiennes, and I actually liked John Cho. But I think TV character acting takes time to develop: Terry O’Quinn barely spoke in the Lost pilot, for example. In an ensemble like this, the important thing is that SOMEONE steps up, even if it’s the kangaroo.
Anyway, I think that about wraps it up….
TIM: Wait! Do you want to say it or should I?
JOHN S: Say what?
TIM: That we can’t wait to flash forward to next Thursday at 8!