Tuned In

Test Pilot: FlashForward

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Test Pilot is a semiregular feature sharing my first impressions of the pilots for next fall’s shows. These aren’t reviews, since these pilots can be rewritten, recast and retooled before airing, and the shows that eventually get on the air can prove much better or worse. But, premature opinions are why God invented the Internet, so let’s get on with…

The Show: FlashForward, ABC. (Yes, evidently it is spelled one word, no space.) As Fox did with Fringe last summer, ABC sought to get the buzz rolling with a private in-house preview for critics today; a review version will be released closer to the premiere. PR reps, and executive producer Jessika Goyer, laid out a reasonable set of no-spoiler requests, but there was no NDA, so I think I’m free to describe it here. (Note: I’m abiding by their requests, and then some, but if you want to be totally surprised by this pilot, then obviously don’t read this post.)

The Premise: Lost fans have probably already seen the trailer, but to recap: for two minutes, 17 seconds, everyone on Earth blacks out and experiences a vision of the same day and time in the future (April 29, 2010; mark your calendars). Many of the visions are scary, but that’s a problem for later.

First: what happens when everyone in the world conks out for 137 seconds? And many of them are driving, flying airplanes, doing surgery… This is the semi-apocalyptic scenario the FlashForward pilot drops us in, before giving us backstory on the central characters, including a pair of FBI agents, a couple doctors, an electric-line repairman, a little girl and her hot babysitter, etc. Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes) soon finds himself heading the FBI investigation into why the incident happened and what the visions mean, while–as an alcoholic–trying to stay off the sauce and take care of his family.

First Impressions: Like many of ABC’s post-Lost attempts at serials, this one has a great premise with tremendous potential, but I wish more attention had been paid to fleshing out the characters and generally bringing a fresher voice to the dialogue. (Someday, I want someone to bring a cool high-concept like this to a producer like Jason Katims, who can play it out realistically through rounded characters, as he did on Roswell.)

The unfolding of the visions is rife with possibility: What do they tell us as more and more people start comparing notes? Can we trust all of the visions? (Already, we see characters lie or withhold them, for reasons that become apparent.) Can the visions be changed, or is the future set in stone? (Yes, I realize a certain other ABC show is already exploring that question. Spoiler alert, no one detonates an H-bomb to change the future in the pilot.) How will the writers complicate the story–as they must, since April 29, 2010, gets them only to the end of the first season, and the producers claim to have a map for the entire series? (Incidentally, though the series is based on a novel, Goyer said it quickly departs from that story, so don’t bother looking to the book to figure out what’s going to happen.)

Visually, the pilot looks great (with the caveats that I watched in Blu-Ray on a movie-theater-sized screen, and presumably the pilot was costlier than later episodes will be), with sweeping visuals of destruction and chaos, as well as the occasional eccentric touch. As Mark walks down a devastated L.A. street, a lone kangaroo hops by, unexplained, an image reminiscent of the polar bear from the pilot of Lost.

As you can guess by now, comparisons to Lost are inevitable, and seemingly welcomed. What I’m missing, which the pilot of Lost gave us, is: a sense of humor, memorable characters, distinct voices and an ear for dialogue. (For instance: Charlie’s “Guys–where are we?” was just the right, chilling note to end the Lost pilot on. FlashForward could use fewer obvious, deflating lines, such as when a crowd watches TV news reports of the incident happening all over the world, and then someone says: “It’s happening all over the world!”) Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by Lost, but I wish that, in addition to the very gripping mystery, I connected to FlashForward’s characters as other than broadly drawn types.

Do I Want to Watch Another Episode? Absolutely. But please work on making these folks as appealing conscious as they are unconscious.