a teasy-tease-tease-tease

TV Flash Forward (which began in the UK last night) is a teasy-tease-tease-tease. Like Lost and Heroes and any number of similar shows, it’s retrofitted to draw the viewer in which questions and crypticism even though it will take weeks, months even years worth of episodes before anything is explained and even then it’ll inevitably be less interesting than what we have floating about our imaginations. But we fall for it (nearly) every time because these days it’s simply not enough to have a straightforward story, there has to be a twist and not everything can be revealed before the close of the episode.

It’s a good premise: everyone on earth somehow blacks out and sees what appears to be a vision of themselves six months in the future for just over two minutes. They’re then left to clean up a disaster stricken planet whilst trying to come to terms with this possible glimpse of their fate. One of the ongoing elements of the series will be each character’s revelation of what they saw in that future and how often they’re telling the truth (and I expect that even if the viewer if offered a glimpse of what they’re saying, it might not always be reliable).

The main criticism so far seems to be that the characters are fairly bland group of individuals though I think there’s method in that. I think that the producers, conscious of their far out premise are weaving an example of what I think William Goldman calls 'smuggling' -- it's doing something fairly complex but giving it all of the attributes of something simplistic. Lost began similarly with what seemed like a simply case of a plane wreck then slowly weaved in the time travel elements over time.

In other words, this looks like Grey's Anatomy crossed with 24, and everyone talks about the big concept like characters from those programmes, so that the big concept can work for a mainstream audience, following some fairly standard storytelling tropes to make the premise abundantly clear, something Dollhouse failed to do at the very beginning and paid for later. Plus Lost’s pilot was double the length of this and had more time to introduce the characters.

If Flash Foward indeed a show about time travel (though I don’t yet think that’s clear – see below), so far it looks like a pre-destination paradox -- the future events unspooling having been set in motion because the people are now aware of that future. It's co-created by Brannan Braga who was the go-to man for time travel stories in Star Trek from The Next Generation onwards. He wrote all kinds of flavours of time travel episodes including pre-destination paradoxes -- though more often than not whatever it was ended up being resolved via technobabble.

Taking all those issues and elements into account, I very much enjoyed it. It does have a sense of humour, especially in relation to the flashes and though I think it was hurt by having to cram so much plot into its opening forty-minutes left some of the character material a bit soapy and chiched, there was enough to suggest that there was more going on with that than meets the eye. It’s good cast too – pulling in Jack Davenport and Alex Kingston suggests the casting people are looking to be a bit imaginative than usual.

Some other theories that assume you’ve watched the thing and know what the hell I’m talking about:

- Sonya Walgar character we're led to believe is having an affair with Jack Davenport in the future. She played Sally in the US version of Coupling. Davenport was of course Steve in the UK version.

- There was a billboard for Oceanic, the airline in Lost on one of the billboards. Expect wild speculation that this is somehow a secret spin-off.

- There's scope for John Cho's FBI character to be lying. Though in this show, as I said, there’s scope for anybody to be lying, especially since some of the casting in the flashes is predetermined by the availability of actors. It's brave to have someone like Kingston since it assumes she'll not be busy when the story catches up. See also Amy Acker in Dollhouse who was weaved into the big storyline only to find work elsewhere when it looked like the show wasn’t going to be renewed and … oh dear.

- Given Braga's involvement there's nothing to stop alien involvement. Though the ghostly figure in the sports stadium brought to mind the angels in Wings of Desire/City of Angels. I wouldn’t rule out the metaphysical at this point.

- My assumption was that though they flashed forward and saw their future they couldn't impact upon it -- their mind sort of hung in there a bit like John Cusack at the end of Being John Malkovich. If they’re looking for a late season twist, it’s that some people could become lucid in those moments, then forgot.

- What if they didn't see their future? What if the bad guys triggered a mass, wildly consistent hallucination of a fictional future (something in the order of The Matrix) in order to make people's lives head off in a different direction towards a version of the future they want, so that certain of the population would be in positions and taking decisions they wouldn't have been otherwise (like having three FBI agents investigating this fictional future and not working on other cases) which the bad guys could then take advantage of the results for some nefarious reason.

- Assuming we did see the future, a gigantic twist would be if in just the first season the characters all caught up with it, the cliffhanger being, “What now?” or another flash to another six months in the future and that it’s a cyclical phenomena which can then be accounted for by the populace.

Finally, of course,

Who’s In It From Doctor Who?

Alex Kingston as Fiona Banks

Was River Song in Forest of the Dead/The Silence In The Library

1 comment:

  1. According to the review at The Onion AV Club (see the 'Stray observations' at the end of the review) Brannon Braga was only on board for the pilot, and has now moved back to his role on '24'. I'm mostly inclined to think this is a positive development for FlashForward...