Flashforward: A Lament For the Best New Series

I guess we’ll just have to watch the Tim-Tim and Squirelly-O Show

Even as I’m approaching the acquisition of my MFA in Writing, all the crafty language in the world cannot make logic out of what I’m witnessing in network television right now, so I’m going to attempt to convey the situation with a bit of roleplay.

Our big-time mystery/drama show is going off the air.  All that’s left is mindless dribble about celebrity dancing and absurd sitcoms about cougars.

What’s a cougar?

Stay with me here.  We need a new show that will appeal to the viewers of our old show.  It must challenge them to think.  But we also need an equally good ensemble cast; a bunch of people that can actually inhabit characters.  Maybe a few people from the old show would be on it.  

Who would be the star?  We can’t have the same protagonist.

No, of course not.  How about that guy from Shakespeare In Love?

But he has a huge nose.

Just trust me on this one.

Scene.  What came out of this conversation was Flashforward, a show meant as the replacement or companion piece to Lost in its final season.  The show follows the aftermath of a global blackout (GBO), during which everyone on Earth falls asleep for one-hundred-thirty-seven seconds and gets a glimpse of where they’ll be on April 29th, 2010.  No one is where they expect.  A judge sees herself as president; a lesbian sees herself pregnant; a janitor sees himself as a religious motivational speaker; a devoted wife and mother sees herself in bed with a man she’s never met.  Most see nothing of importance, as many are on the toilet or reading the newspaper or grocery shopping.  Naturally, millions of people die during the blackout due to being on mid-flight airplanes and driving cars or in otherwise compromised positions.  At the center of this are a few key players (i.e. our protagonists): Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes), an FBI agent who saw himself in front of a bulletin board full of clues, trying to figure out how to stop another blackout; Demitri Noh (John Cho), Mark’s partner, who sees absolutely nothing and deduces he will be dead on April 29th (a month before his wedding); Simon Campos (Dominic Monaghan), a quantum physics genius and all-around renegade whose research is being blamed for the blackout; Janis Hawk (Christine Woods), a secretly gay triple-agent who sees herself pregnant; Bryce Varley (Zachary Knighton), a cancer patient about to commit suicide when the blackout occurs, after which he changes his mind due to his vision of meeting the girl of his dreams in a sushi restaurant; and Aaron Stark (Bryan O’Byrne), an electrician who sees his presumed-dead daughter alive in Afghanistan.  Mark begins the investigation he saw in his vision (“Mosaic”) and the story unfolds with some trying to make their futures come true and others desperately trying to avoid theirs.

The show would go from being an extra for LOST fans to a very formidable contender in itself.  Initial ratings were off the charts.  The crowd went wild.  The producers set up the first season so that the finale, which would end with what really happened on April 29th, would air on the real-life April 29th.  But due to network TV idiocy, an unscheduled break occurred mid-season, which lasted so long that ABC actually released “Flashforward: Season 1: Part 1” on DVD to remind viewers that the show still existed.  Even with this blow, however, the show came back strong with a two-hour return episode entitled “Revelation Zero.”  The episode, which focused heavily on Monaghan’s character, was the closest thing to a movie I’ve ever seen a serial television episode be.  The acting and directing were incredible and the plot went deeper, as Campos was revealed to have been awake during the blackout, being used by a shady organization who wants to initiate another GBO.  Flashforward was back as though it had never gone anywhere.

The music used in the show was also well-placed and inspired, from the haunting original score during Mark and Demitri’s hunt for the elusive D. Gibbons (Michael Massee) to Harrison and the Majestic Kind’s Can You Find Me Love played over a split scene of a gunfight and Christine Woods lying on pavement in her own blood as an alarm clock shrieks “It’s time to wake up.”  They even had their own viral videos and fictional brands, in the spirit of LOST and most J.J. Abrams-run products (including an appearance by LOST‘s own “Oceanic Airlines” and the original Tim-Tim and Squirrelly-O children’s show).

The show screamed through the rest of the season, delivering character-centric episodes that dealt with family problems and the fact of inevitability we tiresome humans are always faced with, and whether or not we choose to meet it head on or try to change it.  The performances became more intense, the stronger stories took the forefront of the narrative, and surprises exploded from every corner (for example, the demise of Dyson Frost, who was assumed to be the main villain and puppeteer but revealed as something else entirely).

The writing wasn’t without its issues.  The lesbian relationship, while a good-hearted attempt at progressiveness, was a bit mishandled: they chose the most attractive and exotic woman they could find to be the one dating Christine Woods’ character, then made the date and morning after a carbon-copy of any onscreen heterosexual relationship before dropping the fact that she was gay altogether.  They killed off the most likable black character within the first eight episodes, gave too much focus to a whiny rich girl who has never even met most of the main cast, made one of the best characters on the show a mole for the bad guys, and turned the friendly neighbor/electrician into an action hero in a sideplot akin to Taken.  Despite these speedbumps, however, the show always had an excellent sense of pacing and I never completely doubted they had a tight plan for the show’s future.

Then, just like that, it was cancelled.  What happened to the viewers?  Nobody I knew stopped watching the show (this is not to say that my core group of TV-watching friends make up the entire fanbase, but there is something to be said abut the abruptness of the cancellation).  The show’s return was triumphant.  It was nominated at the People’s Choice Awards for “Favorite New TV Program” and two actors on the show were nominated for supporting actor gold.  Did ABC forget about this stuff?  I refuse to believe the ratings dwindled so badly behind our backs, and likewise that they thought another Desperate Housewives clone would be a better use for the timeslot.

We’re canceling it.  It was a good run, though.

Why?  Was the woman-woman kiss not good enough?  Did we not treat the African-American characters well enough?  Did they want more Dominic?  I mean, we had a good thing here, didn’t we?

Think of it like the bottle machine at a supermarket.  It gets too full, you gotta empty it out to make room for the new bottles, even if a customer is in the middle of putting their time into loading it up.  Here’s your three-dollar ticket, sir.

I forgot to tell you, I can’t write.

That’s okay; there’s no ink in the pen anyhow.

The season finale, “Future Shock,” which turned out to be the series finale, was an incredibly satisfying amusement-park ride which resolved everyone’s flashforwards from the pilot episode.  It was passionately acted by the cast and expertly handled by the crew, even inserting subtlety in the big reveals and the action scenes.  My biggest hope after knowing this would be the final episode was that it would have a solid enough ending that I’d want to pick up the DVD box and show it to someone in the future without having to apologize after they’re done watching it.  It definitely delivers.  It begs for a sequel season, of course, ending with the second GBO and some truly shocking new visions (including the seven year-old Charlie as a teenager), but if this is truly the end, I feel somehow at peace with it.  It’s not the heart-shattering “We’re gonna have to take the boy” cliffhanger that LOST‘s first season ended with, but rather, a very nice ending to a carefully-woven story that was meant to lead into another.

I wish the producers would shop the show around to other networks and get cracking on the said next chapter, but if we never see it, I’ll maintain ’til the end that Mark survived the explosion.  An explosion that not even the best new series could crawl away from.

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