FlashForward: The Slapdash Sort-Of-Review

This new show on ABC says, “Hey, just what the fuck would happen if everybody passed out for two minutes and seventeen seconds, and in that blackout saw a glimpse of themselves six months into the future?”

I thought, shit, that sounds interesting. I’d read some good early reviews. I know it’s based (loosely?) on a novel by Robert Sawyer.

I decided to watch.

The verdict?

Ehh? Mmm? Okay? Guh? And other non-committal noises?

(My review — if you can call it that, as it will be loose and unmoored like the busted elastic in a pair of underpants — is sure to have some spoilers, by the way.)

The mystery is compelling. It presents us with a Lost-ian cabinet of clues and symbols, which does good for the geek in me. (The geek and Lost-ian in me was also pleased to see an Oceanic Air billboard in the background.) We have seven billion people pass out at the same time, and each sees a cryptic glimpse toward a changed future. Each glimpse is its own puzzle.

The overarching question is equally compelling. I’m a sucker for chewing on that old fate versus free will chestnut. For me, it’s an endless mine of glittery gems. Can you change the future? Do you want to? By trying to change it do you only further  manifest it?

The characters and the writing, on the other hand, didn’t do much for me.

The characters feel blank. Bland. They serve purely as mouthpieces for the mysteries and questions. They voice the plot. Few of them stand out in my mind as separate from one another, though. They blur. (Exception: Bryan O’Byrne’s Aaron Stark. They can do a lot with that character, and the fact a solid actor is behind the role really helps.) Some are given cursory flaws, but they’re either minimal (wife is a workaholic) or rote (husband is a recovering alcoholic). For me, characters are really why I watch: Lost‘s characters leapt off the screen and made me think about them all that week. Here, not so much. Another character problem is how swiftly they’re willing to share their visions. Personal and life-changing visions come spilling out of their open mouths like chewed food. “Hey, I had a vision where I’m totally cheating on my husband, and I’ll basically tell people at work and even tell my husband! Why hold back? Who needs conflict and secrecy? Let’s just take the air right out of it. Foop!

Problem is, the writing’s clunky, and if the writing’s clunky, the characters will be, too. The plot was conveyed with the grace and elegance of being hit in the face with a canned ham. The characters come so swiftly to terms with the madness at hand, it’s almost frustrating. We hear tell of chaos erupting over the world, but what we see in Los Angeles is a pretty calm populace. Heck, the FBI, just four hours later, gets immediately on board with the idea that they’re all seeing a shared future. Nobody argues that point. Nobody lets that threaten their worldview. The main character brings it up in a meeting — “Hey, what I saw wasn’t a blackout, but a memory of the future!” — and everybody nods, is all like, “Yeah, that’s totally true and I believe it without a single moment’s worth of critical self-examination! I’m on board with this crazy talk!” Not long after, they become convinced that it’s intentional, that someone’s behind it, that it’s their job to Solve This Crime. Done. Game over. Good talk, team.

What that translates to is: they want the show to be more about the Cryptic Mystery than they want it to be about How Characters Respond To The Cryptic Mystery.

That worries me, a bit. I want to care about these characters and through them care about the mystery. That’s not happening at present.

Even still, I’m in a generous mood: I’ll give the show a solid B-minus. Compelling enough, and I’ll give them a couple-few weeks to shit or get off the pot.

And thus concludes my rambling half-ass review of Flashforward! Watch it, or don’t. It remains shrug-worthy.

In the meantime, go watch Glee. And Community. Because they’re both super-great new shows that deserve your eyeballs.


  • The plot of the novel is very good, and ultimately wraps up the why and how. But it’s not the main point of the book, of course.

    I like how many shows are illustrating how it’s the journey that matters, not always the destination.

    • Stephen:

      Sure, I’m for that. I don’t know that FlashForward is that show, though. It seems over-concerned with the destination from word one.

      We’ll see. I’ve got one foot out the door, partly because the last thing I need is another TV show to catch up on.

      — c.

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