If the world knew what was going to happen six months from now, would people be powerless to change it?
The question of whether we are all pre-destined is one that is frequently asked in sci-fi stories, but the new ABC series FlashForward takes that idea and makes it a planet-wide obsession, adding in a load of mystery that fans of the show can obsess over themselves.
It all centers around Mark Benford, played by Joseph Fiennes ("The Escapist"), an FBI agent who blacks out in the middle of a high-speed car chase through the streets of L.A. When he wakes up in the middle of a planet-wide disaster, he finds out the whole world went unconscious at the same time for 2 minutes and 17 seconds.
But the catch is that Mark and everyone else in the world didn't just black out. During that time span, they all saw a glimpse of their own life six months from now on April 29, 2010.
The series premiere was filled with impressive special effects and dramatic moments – some that worked better than others. But the real catch was the eerie sight of seeing surveillance footage of human beings across the planet collapsing at the same moment, only to awaken with the realization that they all just viewed the future.
Authorities are stumped about why this happened, but Mark and his fellow FBI agents are sure going to try to figure it out. And thus starts the engine of mystery that will keep viewers coming back while fueling critics' already rampant comparisons to ABC's other hit sci-fi show, "Lost."
Existing in that post-"Lost" world isn't going to be easy for a series like FlashForward that is trying to surprise viewers. While the show's creators threw in a nod to "Lost" viewers – a billboard in the background advertised Oceanic Airlines – some of the revelations in the episode were a little predictable to well-trained "Lost" fans. Even my 10-year-old figured out early who the mystery man in Olivia's vision would end up being – and it's no accident that my 10-year-old also watches "Lost."
The ensemble cast, which includes John Cho ("Star Trek") as Mark's partner, Demetri, and Sonya Wagner ("Lost") as his wife, Olivia, had visions that were all pretty ominous, although one person simply saw himself on the toilet – a welcome break from all the gloom and doom expressed by everyone else. And previews of future episodes indicate some of the more entertaining visions of the future may come from other characters, meaning the struggle against fate will extend beyond the cast visions we've already seen.
These personal stories will not only drive the much of the action in FlashForward this season, but will be the key to whether or not the show succeeds. Making viewers identify with this cast and their future is the real challenge in a post-"Lost" world, since that show – despite its mind-bending brainteasers – did so well at giving its ensemble cast a depth and relevance that made the show's puzzles worth solving.
In FlashForward, do I care that one character was trying to commit suicide? Not yet. But I'm willing to give the show a chance to convince me I should. And if other viewers have the same personal stake in the futures of these characters, FlashForward could not only reach out to sci-fi fans, but even those viewers who watch character-driven dramas like the Grey's Anatomy show that follows it.
The actors they've chosen for the roles should be able to pull it off, with a lot of familiar faces that have proven to be talented. The addition of Dominic Monaghan ("Lost") looks to only improve that cast, which already has fan-favorites like Seth MacFarlane in supporting roles.
And the episode had enough geek-inspiring riddles and "what-the..?" moments to live up to the comparisons enough that "Lost"-type viewers should get behind the series. Even knowing the show's premise, I couldn't help but get goosebumps when one character in L.A. compared his vision with someone in England and came up with the exact same thing.
The show's producers have indicated that the first episode is filled with clues to the FlashForward's enigma, and I found myself wanting to detail everything from symbols on the flags hanging over the streets to the names being listed from future newspaper headlines. Yet even without all the Easter eggs, the key mysteries are enough to keep viewers scratching their heads for awhile:
- Why was the date April 29, 2010, the target of the visions?
- Why were everyone's blackouts exactly 137 seconds long?
- Why did Demetri see nothing during his blackout? Will he die before April?
- Are thing that happen in the visions preventable?
- Would the future have played out that way if people didn't experience flash forwards?
- And more important of all, how and why did all this happen?
A clue to that last questions was given at the end of the episode, and it looks like there's a conspiracy of planet-wide proportions. Luckily, our main character got a good look at where his investigation of the blackouts will take him – complete with a bulletin board covered in clues. (And for comic book fans, the fact that one clue was D. Gibbons was an insider's bonus for "Watchmen" fans, no accident considering the show's creator, David Goyer, has such a comic-centric background.)
Perhaps taking a another cue from "Lost," the creators are taking advantage of the internet-driven frenzy that will help fans get even more involved. The FBI investigators in the FlashForward show are setting up a "Mosaic" website so people all over the world can record their visions. That website actually exists at jointhemosaic.com and already has videos of fans sharing their "visions." There's even a website where an internet journalist explores the possible conspiracy behind the flash forwards at truthhack.com.
It all adds up to a pretty compelling package that holds a lot of promise. No, the first episode wasn't perfect, but even the most loyal among all television viewers will admit few shows are. And in an television landscape that threatens to turn all of broadcast TV into vacuous song-and-dance competitions, FlashForward is a welcome foray into the entertainment possibilities of fictional episodic television.
Although there's always the question of what happens after the show's characters make it to April 29, 2010 – something writers promise will actually happen on that date – right now, sticking around for the journey there and beyond sounds like a lot of fun.
And if FlashForward can take all those ideas from the first episode and make them pay off, this is going to be one hell of a ride.
FlashForward airs on ABC on Thursdays at 8 p.m. Last night's premiere will be shown again Friday, Sept 25 at 8 p.m.