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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

FlashForward: "Future Shock"

Illustration for article titled iFlashForward/i: Future Shock
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The idea, I think, is pretty irresistible. What would you do if you knew your own future? Would you embrace it? Would you run from it? Would you do everything you could to keep it from coming true, only to open the door on the day you saw foretold and have your future there, staring you back in the face? Would the weight of knowing what became of you be so much that you simply couldn't go on and took your own life? Or would you see a world so great that you couldn't wait to get to it, a place where everything you'd ever dreamed of was exactly what you wanted?

Look at the central conflicts of the show, too: A man and his wife realize they're not together in just a few months' time, that she is with another man and he has fallen back into the thing he must never do again to keep her love, even as masked men are on their way to kill him. The man's partner doesn't have a vision of the future and realizes in short order that he will die between now and then. The man's daughter learns that her father will die. His best friend sees himself sitting at the bedside of his believed-to-be-dead daughter. One of his wife's coworkers, who is suicidal from a cancer diagnosis, sees a woman he feels an intense love for almost instantaneously and uses his search for her to create the drive to live. One of the man's coworkers, a lesbian, sees herself looking at a sonogram of a baby she never desired before but suddenly wants now. And the man's boss sees himself taking a dump. (Hey, they can't all be winners.)


Every time I start to outline FlashForward, it sounds like a show I would like to watch. It's got a crazy sci-fi energy to its premise that pretty much guaranteed I would watch at least a handful of episodes of it. And there are moments in it that cut through all of the crap piled on top of it, that made me think the show could have been something amazing. Indeed, some of those moments came in tonight's episode, as the visions seen in the global blackout slowly snapped into place, even as some of the minor details changed, and then the world readied for a new blackout. Not even the hilarious image of a super-slow-motion Mark Benford running toward a helicopter could completely kill my enjoyment of the episode, particularly as the strong visual storytelling the show used to pull off on a regular basis made its return for brief moments.

At the same time, if you tuned in for the FlashForward pilot, then tuned in for this episode, I wonder if you really would have missed anything. The structure of the season has mostly been a convoluted way to bring us right back where we started from. Had that been executed with even a hint of panache, seeing everything finally arrive at the point we saw foretold in the pilot could have been kind of great. As an example, seeing Nicole (Sexy Babysitter, to those of you who've been following these recaps) drive her car into a lake and start to drown, a sort of, "Oh, so this is how that happens" expression on her face, worked better than it had any right to, as did the grim joke of having the inside joke Simon sent to Lloyd be the other half of the equation Lloyd needed. (Though Lloyd's autistic son writing the equation on the mirror? Dragging this whole grade down by at least a point.) And Janis showing up at the hospital and the doctor saying, "I've been waiting for you" finally got at some of the sense these characters might have of being old friends of people they've never met.


Don't get me wrong. There's a ridiculous amount of stupid things in this episode, just like the series. As an example, Aaron is sitting next to the body of his daughter in Afghanistan, crying about how he's lost her, when the doctor pretty much just says, "Oh, no, she's not dead." Then she wakes up when it's time for his flash forward to come true. I mean, we all knew it would happen, but there's no need for the show to be so lazy about it. Similarly, the series' attempts to make it seem like Lloyd and Olivia are destined to be together are always hurt by the fact that their pairing is so nonsensical it makes even less sense than her being together with Mark in the first place (and it doesn't help that the child actors who play their kids are particularly bad, even for child actors).

The resolution to the Bryce/Nicole/Keiko triangle comes down to Keiko's mom throwing shit at people at immigration and Bryce deciding that after wanting to be with Nicole, he REALLY wants to be with Keiko because he put on the clothes he put on that morning. Oh, and, hey, there's still a Flash Forward Day party, for no reason. The episode opened with an ENDLESS sequence where the not-that-compelling characters stared blankly into the distance (presumably at their own fate) to the sound of strings (in general, the episode was horribly over-scored). Why did FBI headquarters blow up? It still doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Also, Gabriel HID A SPECIAL MESSAGE TO MARK IN HIS GIANT BOARD? But it didn't exactly help, since it showed Mark the next blackout was going to happen 14 minutes after the previous flash forwards came true. Thanks for the warning, Gabe. Pickles on burgers for you from here on out!


And yet, there's a grandeur to the show that I still find oddly compelling. I argued a couple of weeks ago that I would rather this be renewed than V, and the season finale - which made me oddly excited for a never-going-to-come season two I know the producers would have just messed up anyway. Weddick sitting on the toilet with his gun, ready to blow away one of the thugs, was a lot of fun. So was the gun battle between Mark and the thugs, and so was Mark sprinting toward the helicopter, even if it made me laugh from how stupid it looked.

And that final sequence of the second blackout was, frankly, pretty stunning. The shots of various world landmarks surrounded by passed-out bodies (a dog and kangaroo the only signs of movement we saw) were eerie, the choice of song - Band of Horses' "The Funeral," which is over-used but still good - worked, and the content of the flash-forwards themselves - a series of disconnected images to scenes from various points in the future, meaning season two would have been about many people trying to assemble a better picture of what was to come based on lots of disparate information - was much, much better than the first time around. (In particular, I like how this mucks with the series' mythology, since Charlie's vision seemed to come a good 15 years down the road, but we know the world ends in 2016, which might have made her the key to the whole puzzle in season two. GAH. I HAVE TO STOP THINKING I CARE ABOUT THIS.)


In the end, the global blackout might not have been the best way to start the series. It boxed the show in, in a lot of ways, and the series was never willing to deal with most of its implications, particularly when you considered how many millions had died (a fact the show kept trying to gloss over in favor of showing off more flash forwards). Similarly, it tried to get us involved in a bunch of character conflicts we had no investment in to begin with. Now, granted, if I were dropped into the midst of a family melodrama about people in suburbia for a season or so and then everyone abruptly saw the future one season, I'd be pretty pissed off. But there had to have been a better way to establish these people as people before dropping the flash forward bomb on them. And once that flash forward was out there, the series couldn't take it back, so it had to keep marching toward things that weren't working - like Olivia and Lloyd - just because it had said it would. It proved to be too constraining a premise for a TV show.

But still. This show was nuts and gonzo and kind of lovable, in spite of the fact that it was also completely awful. There have been a lot of great books written about movies that absolutely and utterly fell apart in the production process, but FlashForward is the first TV series where I've felt the same might be true. A lot of talented people gave their all to make this show. A network staked much of its future on it. And instead, it completely fell apart and was canceled, a really boring show about aliens being picked up instead. I won't miss FlashForward, but, man, I want to know what happened in everybody's second blackout.


Stray observations:

  • ABC has a bad habit of putting way too much music in their shows, and that was absolutely the case HERE, BECAUSE IT SOMETIMES FELT LIKE THE CHARACTERS HAD TO SHOUT OVER THE STRINGS. Phew.
  • Originally, I thought this was to be a two hour event. Imagine my disappointment when the second hour was about Matt Damon.
  • Brief props to the show for isolating its two most compelling regulars in the storyline where they just sat there and watched the second blackout hit them in the face.
  • No idea why this random guest star (who was in half a scene) got her own press still, but that's what happens when your show is headed off the air.
  • I still have no real idea why anyone in the global conspiracy to cause blackouts is doing it, much less why they're all so shady about it. I think it was supposed to be a huge moment when Annabeth Gish kidnapped Janis, but it just wasn't. Dyson Frost had an interesting motivation. None of the other conspiracy members - who just seem to be doing this for shits 'n' giggles - do.
  • Nuts to you, Squirrelio!

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