Pass the Clicker: The Future Lost?

November 6, 2009

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ABC headquarters the day after Lost goes off the air

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

With Lost coming up on its last season, ABC has been scrambling for a new cash cow. It bet heavily on Flash Forward, a new drama with acting talent coming out of its ears and a premise with potential: everyone in the world blacks out for two minutes and experiences a “flash forward” – an intense, dreamlike vision that appears to be a glimpse of what each of them is going to be doing exactly six months later. And everybody’s visions match – if I saw myself having a conversation with you, you also saw yourself having the exact same conversation with me.

The ratings have been slipping and it’s not looking like Flash Forward is going to be the big cash cow ABC was hoping for. Which is too bad, since after a slow start the show is really finding its legs. (Disclaimer: I haven’t gotten around to watching last night’s episode yet, so if the show stank last night I’m not responsible.)

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They clearly invested a lot in stacking this show with talent. In addition to securing Joseph Fiennes to anchor, they rounded up Courtney Vance (known to the general public as a prosecuting attorney on one of the Law & Order shows, but the fan base for Flash Forward is more likely to remember him as “Jonesy,” the brilliant communications officer who figures out how to track the silent sub in The Hunt for Red October), John Cho (Sulu in the new Star Trek) Sonya Walger (Lost’s Penny), and cameos – with suggestions that more appearances may be on the way – from Firefly’s Gina Torres and The 4400’s Peter Coyote.

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Another Lost alum makes a shocking surprise appearance a few episodes into the season, and it looks like that character is going to be a recurring presence.

The show resembles Lost in that it revolves around the intersection between human drama (the “soap opera” element)and great cosmic issues. FF’s cosmic issue is similar to Lost’s, but more anthropocentric – it’s less about man confronting the larger forces in the unverse and more directly about the question of free will, which has come up on Lost but only as one of several themes. Having seen a glimpse of the future, everyone wants to know: can that “future” be changed? Or is it inevitable?

The biggest difference between Lost and FF is the latter’s stronger emphasis on plot. The heroes believe the “flash forwards” are not a cosmic fluke but are the result of some kind of human action, and are trying to track down who’s responsible and why. And so every episode of FF has suspense, thriller and/or mystery-solving elements; the show makes regular use of cliffhanger and twist endings.

This does give the show some strengths. There have been no boring episodes. And the unfolding of the “mythology” is much more well constructed and proceeds at a steady, satisfying rate. The hero has become the lead investigator because he had a “flash forward” in which he was the lead investigator, and he was standing in front of his giant bulletein board full of clues in the case. He remembers many of the clues he saw in his “flash forward” and begins to track them down in the present – and, lo and behold, they turn out to be valid. The idea is for the explanations behind all the seemingly unrelated and sometimes nonsensical clues to be slowly revealed over the course of the season. This will presumably require the writers to avoid making things up as they go.

It also provides a lot of opportunities for the writers to do clever things with the story. More plot = more opportunities for great storytelling, and the writers don’t disappoint.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the script can be dumb – but no dumber than Lost occasionally gets.

That said, as I indicated before, the series did take a few episodes to find its legs. The first few episodes telegraphed various underlying conflicts that were obviously going to unfold over the course of the show, but it allowed them all to simmer too long before they started to produce direct conflict among the characters. For a while, all these great actors just weren’t given enough to do.

That’s all over now, but it appears from the ratings that the show may have missed the chance to find its audience. If you like Lost, you should give this a shot.


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