Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What Did You See? Was It Me, Holding My Face in My Hands and Screaming?

We're only four episodes in, but FlashForward might just be the most infuriating show in the history of television. And not infuriating in a good way, the way Lost is infuriating. In the "I swear to god, I am going to punch every last one of you in the kidneys" way.

I should explain.

Imagine if David Copperfield spent an hour-long special making quarters appear behind a ten-year-old's ear. Imagine if Radiohead and U2 shared the stage for a free concert, but played poorly rehearsed Lady Gaga covers all night. Imagine showing up for a Patton Oswalt comedy performance only to see him read knock-knock jokes for an hour. Imagine someone giving you a free Star Trek DVD and finding out it's "Spock's Brain." Imagine somebody wins that Toys R' Us spending spree they used to give out as prizes on Nickelodeon game shows, but only buys a pack of baseball cards.

That's FlashForward.

I guess I need to keep explaining.

For those of you who haven't seen it (or its heavy advertising campaign), FlashForward has a dynamite premise: everyone, everywhere in the world, simultaneously blacks out for exactly two minutes and seventeen seconds. During that time, everyone sees a vision -- they see themselves, six months into the future. Why did everyone see these visions? Who or what caused them? What could have affected everyone on the planet at the same time? What's the significance of the date of the flash-forwards -- everyone sees themselves at the same moment in time, so why that particular moment? And is the future set? Can knowledge of what's to come allow you to change it? One FBI agent sees himself investigating the blackouts, and uses those few disjointed images as the launching pad to an investigation to try to find answers to the biggest mystery in the history of humanity.

Sounds awesome, doesn't it? Told you: dynamite premise. But the execution -- oh gods, the execution.

The writers -- and, also, the editors -- of this show seem convinced that we, the audience, are idiots. Now, no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public, for sure, but you should get a load of these guys. The FBI agent, the one I mentioned before? His wife -- who actually also plays Penny on Lost, and that's not the last time I'm going draw parallels between these shows before we're done -- sees herself in the future with another man. A man she hasn't met at the time of the flashforward, no less. Drama! And then, while treating a young boy injured during the blackouts -- she's a doctor -- she meets the boy's now-single father...and it's him! Suspense! Not a bad dramatic hook, not at all.

Now, I trust that you can remember that information. But FlashForward does not. Because every time it's brought up -- and it's brought up a lot, as characters spend pages and pages of dialogue doing nothing but standing around reiterating what's already happened -- we are once again subjected to her flashforward. Flash -- the man in front of the fire! Flash -- doctor lady gazing down on him from the stairs! Every. Time.

The FBI agent? He's a recovering alcoholic. But in his vision, he was drinking. We know that it weighs heavy on his mind. But just in case, we're going to look at it ten times every episode. His partner? He didn't see anything during the blackout. Does that he mean he might die? He thinks so. And it scares him. And so he'll tell us. Over. And over. And over. The FBI agent's AA sponsor? He saw himself with his daughter...who's been dead for several years. Hope you like watching that meeting, too, 'cause they're gonna rerun it so many times I'm afraid they'll eat through the tape.

And the dialogue -- Je-sus. The little kids are the worst, speaking in fucktarded ready-for-trailers snippets that don't make the slightest bit of damn sense -- when asked about her vision, the agent's daughter says, "I dreamed there were no more good days." Yeah. Sure you did. A character has a moment where he realizes that he could act and potentially alter the future -- the audience realizes it. The other character in the scene realizes it. But just in case, he talks about it for a paragraph, ending with, "You get to decide whether or not my future happens!"

Each episode opens with a compelling image, and ends with a banging cliffhanger...but the forty minutes in between are the very worst kind of overwritten hackery, buoyed by the occasional moment of brilliance. Personally, I like to lay the blame for this on the network: they're afraid of losing an audience trained on Grey's Anatomy with what is, admittedly, something of an off-the-wall premise. So the fantastical time-loop stuff has to be explained ad nauseam, for fear someone might get confused and flip over to Dancing with Disgraced Former Republicans.*

But you know what? Lost is, hands down, the strangest show I've seen on network television since, well probably ever. And they don't feel the need to spend half of every episode retreading already retread exposition. And you know what else? Lost had the common courtesy to actually make us care about its characters before hitting us with the high drama -- FlashForward doesn't do that, so we get dramatic moments that fall flat, like a father we know nothing about telling his son we know nothing about that the mother we've never seen is dead. We know nothing about the FBI agent's partner other than that he's a surly asshole, so it's hard to get wrapped up in his eventual death and the existential quandary he's having about it. And the reason I keep referring to people by vague nouns instead of their names is because the show hasn't actually made me remember them.

"So," you say, "why don't you just, ya know, quit watching it?"

Because. Because I love the premise. And there are those occasionally flashes of brilliance, which make me think the show might be going somewhere interesting. I get the feeling that this is a problem of execution, not concept, and that if the network gets out of the way and the creators pull their heads from their asses, FlashForward could be something great.

Or, I could end up killing everyone on the planet in a screaming rage.

*Yes, I know Tom Delay isn't on Dancing with the Stars anymore. But I never got a chance to make a joke about it when he was, so just deal with it, 'kay?

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