Counting Crows: Going All Dick Cheney on ABC’s “FlashForward”
By Persona au Gratin
For even passing fans of science fiction, the premise of ABC’s FlashForward is irresistible: a mysterious phenomenon temporarily causes the consciousness of the entire human race to jump into the future.
ABC has worked hard to position FlashForward as a worthy replacement for Lost when that fan favorite finally concludes next year. In addition to enlisting the actors who play Penny and Charlie, the pilot episode even included an “Oceanic Airlines” billboard smack dab in the center of one shot. The premiere delivered impressive imagery and set the stage for a seemingly promising and intriguing new series.
Four episodes later, however, things have gone south faster than a Somalian crow, circa 1991.
On the surface, FlashForward looks and feels like a quality program, but unlike Lost, it cannot withstand repeated viewings or even cursory analysis. Why — apart than the practical convenience to the show’s cast and crew — is the investigation of a global phenomenon being led by the FBI’s Los Angeles office? Why, two weeks since the incident, hasn’t anyone talked to a frakking scientist? Why, if crows are so integral to understanding the incident, hasn’t someone picked up a phone and talked to a frakking ornithologist? Why, if your own daughter has some idea of who “D. Gibbons” is, don’t you ask her about him? The list of internal inconsistencies and dubiously arbitrary plot devices goes on and on.
Unlike the tolerable first season of Heroes, the future here isn’t even apocalyptic. Instead, the real apocalypse has already happened. The characters are divided on whether the glimpsed future is a good thing, leaving me ambivalent, too. It is simply hard to feel much urgency as April 29th approaches, especially when I don’t care about any of the characters, from the uninteresting lead character of Agent Mark Benford, to his electrician/life-coach pal, to the bland female detective whom I frankly think of only as “Agent Database” because she is always staring at a computer. (Aside: I sure hope Benford’s house keeps having electrical problems so the electrician/life-coach can keep showing up to proselytize about trust. Next week on FlashForward: Agent Benford gets a dimmer installed in the foyer!)
One part sub-par criminal-investigation drama, one part sub-par medical drama, one part weak X Files episode, one part West Wing and now even one part C-SPAN, the show has absolutely no idea what it wants to be. So, the series jags schizophrenically from one week to the next, doubtlessly throwing many viewers clear of the accident in the process.
When the show can be bothered to advance the story, it does so in the least interesting ways imaginable. In some episodes, a new piece of Agent Benford’s wall of clues is explained through a new – and usually zany – character. You can almost hear the boxes being ticked. In others, the detectives perform a “laptop huddle,” in which three or more characters stand around one computer and stare at the screen until one of them says, “Wait a minute, back that up…” or “Hey, we haven’t run this search query yet…” Most episodes also conclude with a reveal completely unrelated to the previous 55 minutes.
If I as a viewer think the show is dumb, then the show apparently thinks I’m even dumber. Apparently I need middle-school themes like “free will versus determinism” beaten into my head by characters spouting lines that would be more at home on a DVD commentary track than a half-decent script. Apparently every time two characters share a scene, I need to see their flashforward (often for the fifth or sixth time) to remember who they are. Apparently there’s no need to develop mood or atmosphere in the episode itself when the producers can just drop the needle on some Nick Drake and show us a montage. Apparently having our hero whisper intensely at all times and in all settings – a friend calls him “The Hoarse Whisperer” – is going to have to pass for character development. Apparently I’m supposed to spend the commercial break saying “I can’t believe Peter Coyote is the President” when, in fact, the show revealed that he was the President last week. Apparently, in addition to crashing planes and wrecking cars, the flashforwards also eliminated all forms of subtlety, shading and nuance.
Author Robert J. Sawyer handed ABC a great premise on a silver platter, but ABC has done nothing worthwhile with it. All the slick production values and moody montages are just lipstick on a pig. As another friend summarized, the show’s outstanding accomplishment is that the most outrageous and fantastical aspect of the show — the flashforward itself – is also somehow the only believable aspect of the show. Everything else in the show, from the exotic to the utterly mundane, rings hollow, false.
I will keep watching FlashForward, but not because it’s the next Lost. I am going to keep watching because Flash Forward is this Fall’s punching bag for the thinking man.