Ah, the stench of missed opportunities. I was on my own last night, with no Duchess in sight, and thus was not forced to watch Grey’s Anatomy. So I decided to take in Flash Forward on ABC, on the premise that a) it at least wasn’t yet another medical/lawyer/cop drama, and b) it’s at least somewhat SF-ish.
Now, I’ve never read the source material, so I can’t comment on that. From what I understand, the TV series is quite different from it, which is probably a good thing. Because the premiere episode of Flash Forward was kinda disappointing. As in, dull to the extreme.
It’s a fantastic concept: At precisely the same moment, everyone in the world drops unconscious for two minutes and seventeen seconds, and the majority of the world’s population spends that 2:17 having a brief vision of themselves six months in the future. In the mean time, of course, several million people probably die as planes crash, cars crash, surfers drown, patients on operating tables bleed out while surgeons lay on the floor – you get the idea. It’s a great premise. The producers of the show take that great premise and proceed to pretty much do absolutely nothing with it.
First of all, the whole frickin’ world recovers from chaos pretty easily. We’re shown scenes of vast destruction coupled with looting and accidental death – the shot of a poor slob drowned in about an inch of puddle because he was unconscious the whole time was a great detail – and the old trick of having people gather around TVs in a store window to watch the news report on the phenomena world-wide conveys the idea that this was a global happening. Yet, despite downed power lines and explosions going off everywhere, the power stays on, people are able to get to their jobs pretty easily, and international communications remain online. Nit-picking, maybe, but everyone in the world was out cold for two minutes. I’d like to see a bit more chaos. The show ends with the lead character sitting quietly in his back yard – aside from some scrapes on his face you’d never know the world had basically ended for two minutes earlier in the day.
Okay, though, it’s not disaster-porn, and maybe they just want to get to the mystery. The problem is what they do with it. Now, this was just roughly 40 minutes of storytelling, so maybe they plan a lot more, but right now the main character’s flash forward shows him . . . investigating the flash forwards. Seriously. The Cosmos or god or whatever has sent him a vision, and his vision is him doing his job. Sure, there are implications that his investigations has gotten big, that he’s through the looking glass (he’s a recovering alcoholic and he’s shown drinking like a fish, and men armed with ridiculous HERE WE ARE laser-sighted rifles come after him) and all that . . . but again, these are visions from the future. His vision is him investigating everything? I want more. I want real mystery, something cool and frightening. Not an FBI agent off the wagon and being threatened by a worldwide conspiracy.
Playing Devil’s Advocate, maybe it’s a good thing that instead of showing everyone in some alarmingly bizarre future is genius. I mean, I suppose it makes sense that the majority of the billions of folks in the world would have mundane visions. My vision would probably be me sitting at this desk, typing for two minutes. But someone should have had a more interesting FF.
This doesn’t mean they don’t have something cool up their sleeves, of course, but the dull flash forward and heavy-handed editing (every time we see the lead character brooding about his vision, they cut back to him sucking booze from a flask just to, you know, hit you over the head with his fear that he’s going to start drinking again and ruin his marriage – every. single. time.) doesn’t encourage me to keep digging here.
There were some interesting things (with such a rich premise, even chimps at typewriters had to have a few, after all): One, the FBI agent who doesn’t have any vision of the future, implying that he’s dead 6 months from then. A nice eerie touch, but it did make me wonder why no one else had a similar experience – people die every day. Shouldn’t there be tons of folks with no vision, convinced they will be dead? Of course, the guy with No Future is also a young guy engaged to be married to the love of his life – because no cool idea cannot be tainted by a cliche.
The other interesting thing was the discovery – through magic superpower detection skilz – of a single person upright and awake during the flash forwards at a stadium in Detroit. The grainy security-cam footage of him walking around calmly was pretty creepy, and of course it opens up a rich vein of possibilities. Which I am pretty certain the show will squander, because that’s how this show rolls, apparently. It’s pretty obvious the show will focus on the characters’ relationships as much as the core mystery, and while that’s fine, I think watching people wonder why oh why they will do such terrible things 6 months from that moment, followed by the inevitable Moment of Truth when the future starts coming true, will be boring in the extreme. Look, we’ve already seen the lead off the wagon, drunk as a skunk. It won’t be any surprise at all when he’s sitting at a bar in episode five, and orders that first – DUN DUN DUN! – whiskey on the rocks.
I’ll admit that there’s the possibility that this is all subversion – an obvious theme of the episode was fate versus free will – are the future visions carved in stone, or are they just possible futures? Or does having a vision actually cause the future, because you start making decisions based on your vision? For example, the lead has a vision of himself studying a bulletin board covered in evidence relating to the FFs. By the end of the episode, he has erected the bulletin board and placed the first few scraps of evidence on it in the exact positions his vision dictated. Not a bad idea, to explore whether the visions might just be hallucinations that some people accept as fact and thus cause to come true, and others reject and thus disprove. But I wonder if that’s really what they’ll do. I suspect rather they will assume the FFs are true visions, and everyone’s will come true, although possibly in unexpected ways and with twists and turns.
Then again, I am a cynical ass, and a few weeks from now I may be hurriedly watching the rest of the episodes on ABC.com or something, trying vainly to catch up with the cool kids. But for now, this smells like a huge opportunity lost in favor of more mundane storylines and a LOOK HERE THIS IS IMPORTANT style of direction.
Finally, though, I have to say: Seth MacFarlane probably should do more acting. He was possibly the most charismatic guy on screen last night.