Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lurch Forward

Warning: Spoilers
(spoilage factor: about the same as an orange left on the highway after the flashforward)




I'm trying to remain positive about Flash Forward, but after tonight's hit-and-miss debut that's gonna be hard.

Admittedly, I've got a bit of a bias here. The novel that inspired this new TV series is one of my favourite Robert J Sawyer books and I think that story certainly has what it takes to translate to the screen (though it would work better as a one-off movie or miniseries rather than a full season/multiple season series). That being said, I admit it's probably more intellectual than what the average TV exec thinks the audience is willing or capable of following. I also try not to fall victim to comparing a TV show or movie with the novel on which it's based - they need to be treated as seperate entities and evaluated on their own merits. While I haven't been deliberately avoiding advanced reviews for the show, I haven't made an effort to hunt them down either, so I came into the show cold.

The show begins with the disasterous aftermath of the flashforward - where the entire population of the Earth has suddenly and simultaneously experienced a strange phenomenon where their minds have jumped 6 months into the future for a span of just over 2 minutes. This causes their bodies to collapse, with terrible results as people are injured or killed through falls or accidents involving cars, planes, etc. FBI agents Mark Benford (played by Joseph Fiennes) and Demetri Noh (John Cho) try to figure out what caused it to happen, as they and the people around them try to pick up the pieces of their lives and cope with the implications of what they've seen (or not) during their flashforwards.

On the up side, the show started with a frighteningly impressive depiction of the disaster caused by the flashforward - an unflinching vista of highways littered with wrecked vehicles, bodies and the injured, and skylines of wrecked buildings as uncontrolled aircraft tumble from the sky.


As childish as it sounds, amidst all the angst-ridden flashforwards of the cast, I also enjoyed the touch of the banal when the FBI boss recalled (but didn't cop to) his own future memory of sitting on the can reading the sports section of the paper.


But the best moment of the show was Brain F O'Byrne's gripping performance as Aaron Stark, Benford's friend and fellow an alcoholic, when he confides to the FBI agent that his flashforward is a burden because after struggling to deal with the supposed death of his daughter, his experience has indicated that she's still alive and he has to find a way to cope with the storm of emotions and readjustment that this causes.


The weaknesses of the show, however, were strongly evident from the beginning. The scene with Benford's slo-mo run through the disaster has been done so many times by Hollywood it's become corny. Speaking of scenes, the 4-hours-before cutaway was vaguely creepy because the shot of the LA suburb reminded me too much of the neighbourhood in Poltergeist. Incidental and unintentional, I know, but it took away from the story for me, so points lost from the show's overall score. Deal with it.

Then there was Sonya Walger's completely awful excuse for a performance in the role of Dr Olivia Benford. An unprecidented, bizarre and deadly incident has just rocked humanity - never mind the sheer scope of what's happened, it's also given her character a glimpse into an unsettling near future. But Walger downplayed her character's reaction to the point that she seemed disinterested and bored. I realize she's going for the portrayal of a seasoned doctor staying professional amidst a crisis, but there's a definite line between acting cool and calm, and just plain bad acting, and Walger was on the wrong side of that line.


The little details were jarring too (and again, I realize the show's different than the book and needs to be evaluated on its own merits - or lack there of). Lloyd Simcoe now has an English accent? Where did that come from? He's supposed to be a good Canadian guy. I won't even get into the weirdness being hinted at in the previews.


But what seemed like the biggest change for the worse was the combination of making the flashforward a short hop of just 6 months into the future rather than the 20 year leap of the book, and the emphasis on ratcheting up the tension of an FBI investigation with hints at mysterious figures that could be involved. Admittedly, a story about a Canadian scientist working at CERN and trying to come to grips with the philosophical implications of what's happened as well as the practical ramifications of knowing waht's in store for him 2 decades in the future might not seem like exciting prime time fare for Joe and Sally Sixpack. But with the set-up we've been given, FlashForward looks like it's going to be a knockoff of 24 seasoned by SF. Just what TV needs, another cop show.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not writing off FlashForward yet. If I stuck with the steaming pile known as Dollhouse for 4 episodes, I can certainly give this show the benefit of the doubt for a little while yet.
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