Warning: Some minor spoilers within.
We LOST fans have been targeted, with a vengeance — by FlashForward. ABC Has spared no expense in attracting us to their latest epic sci-fi/drama series FlashForward, and – whether you like the overt tactics or not – it was for good reason. FlashForward is, in fact, the type of television show that LOST fans can appreciate. I’ve seen the pilot for FlashForward, so I thought it would be appropriate at this time for a [humble] LOST fan to opine on ABC’s widely publicized comparison to our show of choice, apple to apples.
Why Compare FlashForward To LOST?
First of all, I wanted to meditate over why ABC is even so heavy with the LOST comparisons. On one level, it might seem that ABC is being a little trite — since FlashForward is also the name of a plot device in LOST, and our LOSTies have done their fair share of time-tripping, a hard-line LOST zealot may jump to the conclusion that ABC was attempting a pseudo spin-off. The problem with that reasoning is that it isn’t true. The novel FlashForward, which the series is based on, was published in 1999. This is the point where proud LOST fans proclaim that those elements weren’t the tent-poles of LOST‘s creativity anyways, and we’re sure Damon and Carlton never read that book, but all fan-pride aside, the concepts of LOST and FlashForward are well worn tropes, the trailblazing in LOST has all been in the management of the dramatic threads and the ability of the writers to refresh their well of mythic structure.
LOST is a fractal, a Mandelbrot set – the closer you get to the mystery, the more hidden details emerge. LOST is a good example of how plastic a tried and true ‘˜device’can become in the hands of imaginative scribes. But, is FlashForward? The fact is, if you were trying to determine how to market FlashForward you’d quickly attach to the similarities between the shows, add the fact that you have some of the same cast, and really be left with no other alternative. ABC’s ‘˜in your face’of the LOST brand — going as far as to place LOST Easter-eggs in the FlashForward pilot — makes sense.
The real risk here isn’t whether or not FlashForward is the next LOST, but whether ABC has overdone that proposition to the point where SciFi fans who don’t like LOST will still tune in.
Okay, but IS FlashForward the next LOST?
One fact makes all the LOST name-dropping irrelevant: LOST built its reputation and audience over time. One of the truly groundbreaking aspects of LOST that has assured its place in the record books is the fact that over five seasons the story never became stale. In fact, it got better – so much better we thought our heads would explode. FlashForward can’t be the next LOST until it has achieved that test of time. So let’s stick with what we know. We have to start with the potential. As any exec in the film biz will tell you, if you can’t sum it up in one sentence that makes people want to watch it — your idea sucks.
It’s an idea that makes sense, they are banking on word of mouth. How easy is it going to be for the guy on the street to convince somebody else to tune in? If he has to spend half an hour going into detail about why the show is good, he fails. After miraculously surviving a terrifying plane crash, 48 people must learn to live together on a mysterious deserted island — and there are monsters, ghosts, and secret science cults waiting in the shadows, too. (Okay, not how we’d really want to pitch it, but you get the idea.) For FlashForward, the ‘˜logline’is something like ‘For two minutes and seventeen seconds, everyone on the planet flashes forward to the same future date. Now they must work together to find out whether their fates are sealed, or they can change the future.’Yeah, that’s two sentences and not really compelling prose, but you have to admit — the question that is posed is interesting. As interesting as that of LOST? I think so.
The point of all of this is that LOST has a core concept that piques our interest, and so does FlashForward. In this rudimentary sense — FlashForward is in the right camp. On the other hand, I’ve talked to a lot of screenwriters who say F**k your idea, it’s all about character and story. So let’s move on to the meat of the matter.
Getting FlashForward off the LOST teat
So, in my opinion the LOST comparisons aren’t a guarantee of epic sci-fi ala our beloved LOST, it’s just common sense marketing. Once you know the show, the comparisons are neither misleading nor a disservice to fans of either property. ABC knows LOST fans will like FlashForward, and they know why. Here’s why. LOST fans love an ensemble mystery where every character’s perspective is unique. This is easily the case with FlashForward, perhaps even more so. With LOST we have different people seizing the tabula rasa of the crash to suit their past lives. FlashForward is much different, because people see where they are in the future and some are pleased, others are not.
FlashForward presents the right situations to make this imbalance interesting: a hotshot FBI dude Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes) is solving the case of why the FlashForward happened, and is being stalked by dangerous looking guys with night-vision and guns. His doctor wife, Olivia (Sonya Walger), is calling another man ‘˜sweetheart.’Mark’s AA sponsor Aaron (BrÃan O’Byrne) has discovered that his daughter — who he thought had died in Afghanistan — is, in fact, very much alive. Mark’s partner, Demetri (John Cho), thinks he may be dead in the future, while Olivia’s suicidal co-worker Bryce (Zachary Knighton) sees something that calms his urge to blow his brains out. And that is not even all. There is enough story meat there for fans to eat mutton legs for the next 23 episodes. When you begin to see the stories of the characters unfold you realize the real power of FlashForward isn’t so much in the ‘˜idea’of the FlashForward itself, as much as it is in the potential for drama that emerges when people get a glimpse into their future – and it gets even more interesting when those glimpses cross character lines and we begin to see how people’s different parallels of satisfaction can lead to conflict. For instance, that guy that was with Olivia in the future. Yeah, he and Mark are bound to be great friends, even though in the here-and-now everybody’s behaving.
What really drives the story, so far, is whether or not we will be watching how all of these threads come together into the ‘˜fate’we have seen, or whether the characters will become masters of destiny and change the future. On the science-fiction end of things, what if they did? FlashForward producer David S. Goyer has said the time of the FlashForward will come to pass in this season, so no matter how this question is answered we know it is just one in a super-fantasy interrogation that has the potential to pose bigger, more troubling questions of temporal politics as future seasons are planned.
Aside from the intellectual heat of FlashForward there is plenty of eye-candy as well. FlashForward is a visual odyssey of cinematic setups that rival the biggest blockbusters. Goyer, an accomplished film scribe and director, took the reigns for the pilot and his big-screen training is evident. Action scenes are fast, always in motion, and oozing with a sense of exhilaration and danger. The more poetic shots, like Bryce on the Venice Pier watching what he thinks will be his last sunrise, are vast and beautiful. Likewise, Goyer brings the strange when it’s needed — making a Kangaroo bounding through downtown L.A. into a dreamlike momentary fugue.
Is FlashForward the next LOST? In terms of apples to apples, it’s far too early to tell. In terms of potential, absolutely. With headier concepts like The Prisoner, Person’s Unknown, and Day One ruling the fantasy menu this season FlashForward definitely has the potential to be the leader of the pack.