Among the overwhelming mass of new television on tonight, one of the more anticipated shows is ABC’s new Lost-esque drama FlashForward. Much like the blurry visions of the future that establish the show’s premise, I have already seen the pilot. (In appropriately blurry, too-pixilated form).
The idea, in case you haven’t been subjected to the blanket of teasers ABC has laid over the entire network, is that for two minutes and seventeen seconds one lovely fall day, everyone falls over and sees two minutes of their future. Because the entire population has lost consciousness, they all wake up in a world where every plane in the sky crashed and every car on the road crashed and every James-Bond-chase-scene-esque fruit cart crashed with another brightly colored fruit cart and now there are oranges and dead bodies everywhere. Cue our heightening collective paranoia about the apocalypse. The main character, an FBI agent played by Joseph Fiennes, sees clues about the flash forward, and presumably will spend at least the next season investigating them. There are also doctors, nervous men sitting around polished conference tables, gruff AA members, a cute freaky/prophetic child, and at least one gratuitously hot babysitter.
Having only seen the first episode, I can’t quite decide whether the show has promise. My gut is no, largely because the parallels with Lost are overpowering. The all-encompassing disaster that sets off the entire show, the over-dramatic lines that take twice too long to utter and always end the scene, the tortured male authority figure/leader/main character… it all feels so familiar. And it’s not just a strong sense of TV nostalgia – ABC is pushing the connection in all sorts of “find the hidden message” ways. Like the breadcrumbs ABC often leaves behind between Lost seasons, FlashForward already has ample cross-media content, including one website set up to help people connect their images of the future with others from around the world. If you feel moved enough to watch tonight for yourself, keep an eye out for the direct, unspoken Lost shoutout that happens early in the episode and makes you wonder if ABC wishes it were more like a comic-book empire.
My biggest concern is that FlashForward is too essentially derivative to escape the myriad problems that Lost continues to suffer from. The collision of many individual stories seems to be the storytelling cliché of this decade (see Love Actually, Crash, Syriana, and Lost among others), but network television has yet to demonstrate its capacity for escaping the inherent flaws of the form. On Lost, that weakness was initially the show’s strength – with so many stories to tell, the revelation that each story was actually a part of someone else’s background felt exciting and unexpected, and made it easy to build suspense and cliffhangers into each episode. Over the long term, as so many people have begun to complain, the formula became too rigid, and the absurdity of constant answerless-questions grew immensely frustrating and then almost boring. As promising as the interlaced plot (or as FlashForward itself has termed it, the mosaic) may be, its sustainability over the long term has not proven successful.
I will keep watching, because I am nothing if not a plot junkie. But I worry that FlashForward has copied from the success of Lost without also learning from its failures.