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Friday, September 25, 2009

"FlashForward" fizzles in first attempt

Go big or go home, right?

Well, "big" doesn't even begin to describe what "FlashForward" attempted to accomplish during its much buzzed-about pilot last night on ABC.

On paper, "FlashForward" should be epic television. After a two minute blackout puts the entire world to sleep, those who regain consciousness are forced to retrace their steps and make sense of "flash forwards" that suddenly thrust characters six months into the future.

Are the visions real? Can they be changed? Should they be embraced? Did everyone have one?

For instance, struggling to stay sober FBI agent Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes) sees himself drinking and losing his cool while trying to make sense of the ongoing puzzle that caused the two minute snoozefest. His wife, Dr. Olivia Benford (Sonya Walger, or Penny Widmore on "Lost"), sees herself seducing another man -- despite having never met the individual in her flash. Meanwhile, Benford's partner (John Cho) doesn't see anything at all, which leads him to presume he might be dead.

It should all be riveting, edge-of-your-seat stuff, the kind of intergalactic mindf*** that should leave everyone freaking out about their lives. Having survived such a catastrophic moment of unexpected enormity, these characters must think the apocalypse is a given, right?


Except the pilot doesn't really play out that way. The "event" that knocks everyone out cold comes and goes in a matter of minutes, the rest of the episode dotted with calm and rational "What did you see? Wait, what did you see?" type discussions that suck the palpable energy from an unthinkable sequence of events. Now, I'm not a huge fan of disaster movies, but it would seem there should have been a very real 9-11 what the hell just happened quality to the worldwide blackout. Yet instead of living in that moment -- the burning buildings, the crashing helicopters, upturned vehicles on a littered freeway -- "Flash" creators skipped ahead to the meaning behind the flashes, this despite not developing any of the characters.

It's a huge mistake, one "Lost" took the opposite track on. The "Lost" plane crash was handled the right way -- mass confusion, mass hysteria, a few ominous hints about the island, but nothing that would even dare suggest that its mysterious qualities would eventually consume the entire show. What still stands out from the "Lost" pilot is genuine fear and paranoia -- passengers walking in a daze, Jack jumping into hero mode instead of worrying about his own well-being -- the characters' reactions to what just happened. Instead, "FlashForward" rushed away from the action and moved immediately to the burning questions, none of which have any established depth or emotional pull. Even the cool cliffhanger felt less dramatic because the build-up felt too ... well, normal.

Other gripes: the premise is too big. A human blackout in Los Angeles is riveting enough. Stretching it to Hong Kong, Paris, London, Sao Paulo, all parts in-between, puts everything in a grand context that's impossible to wrap your head around. Just imagine that utter carnage from having everyone black out at the same time for two minutes. Impossible.

News scrawls and flashing images attempt to capture the magnitude of the universal disaster, and of course, this all fails miserably. Just the L.A. hospital alone, where Sonya Walger's character is a surgeon, would be absolutely OVERRUN with potential victims. Instead, Olivia and her crew wake up from the floor, clean their hands, and go to work on a lone accident victim -- no real sense of urgency or expectation for an oncoming rush that should have been played up much more dramatically. Take your cues from Hurricane Katrina, writers! That's what happens when the world turns upside down for a day.

Then there's the dialogue, most notably from Benford's daughter. It's not cute. It's not creepy. Just incredibly forced and cheesy. Same goes for an exchange about the "flash forward" -- and seriously, they use the term about 80 times throughout the pilot -- in the FBI office, one that includes "Family Guy's" Seth MacFarlane trading notes. "This is what I saw ... Well, this is what I saw ..." It's like a bunch of school kids sitting around the cafeteria table blandly discussing whether they have bologna or peanut butter. YOU ALL BLACKED OUT! Wouldn't someone overreact? Anyone?

There are definitely intriguing parts worth exploring here, enough that would keep most "Lost" puzzle junkies hanging around. The ability to see even two minutes into future is a heady space we've all dreamed about. Me? I may DVR the next few episodes to see if the pace slows down, the requisite depth arrives, just to make sure my first impression hasn't been made in haste. Plus, Dominic Monaghan (Charlie from "Lost") is set to arrive, and that's a bonus anyway you slice it.

But for a first knockout blow, the kind of holy crap pilot I was expecting from the promos and premise, I'm simply not buying. TV is too crowded these days, and if I'm going to surrender my attention span to a show like "Flash Forward," it better be earned immediately.

Instead, "FlashForward" seems to revel in the notion that because I already love "Lost," I should also love a show that raises similar big questions. Sorry, but in this case, big doesn't mean better.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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