FlashForward: Back to the End

A fellow TV critic—and, to be perfectly honest, the only other person I know who stuck with FlashForward until the bitter end—describes the show as "the story of a bunch of interesting characters who are continually getting screwed with by writers who don’t know what they’re doing." It’s an apt summary that's difficult to top, especially after the material placed into evidence by last night’s series finale (and I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what it will be, despite the high hopes of a handful of fans and their internet petitions).

Now that both Lost and FlashForward are off the air for good, we can make as many comparisons between the two shows as we like without offending fans of either one too much, and personally, I found it curious how much the series finales (not to mention my own reaction to them) opposed one another. The end of Lost, which—as everyone predicted—was unable to tie up even a small number of the loose ends it left dangling, nonetheless seemed extremely satisfying to me, and its final moments didn’t leave me wanting more: It had reached a final conclusion that served as punctuation to all the emotional investment I’d put into it, and to want more out of it would have made it feel wrong. FlashForward, however, really did its best to tie everything together (although this meant fudging a lot of specifics around what we already knew), but ended up feeling half-assed, thrown together, and incomplete—while at the same time holding forth the promise of another blackout that genuinely made me wish the show wasn’t over.

As far as individual moments went, for every one that worked—and there were more of those than I expected—there were two that didn’t. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty perfect capsule description of the entire history of FlashForward. The scenes of the second blackout were masterfully filmed, but that just left me wishing the producers had done as good a job on the first one, and wanting the series to follow that story instead of the ones we’d been following. Janis’ story was concluded in a satisfying way, but Aaron’s was a complete mess. Nicole ending up in the lake was pretty solid, and tonally it bore some of the self-mocking camp elements the show began to develop when its writers realized no one was taking it seriously, but the scene were Lloyd’s idiot-savant kid writes the equation on the mirror was infuriatingly bad. And Weddick’s thread ended as satisfyingly as a year-long plot point about a guy sitting on the crapper could possibly have ended, but the scene with Keiko’s mother might as well have had her screaming “LOOKA ME, I’M CREATING A DISTRACTION” for as much as it telegraphed its intent.

And yet, and yet: At the end, didn’t I sit up and take notice at the amazing final sequences? Yes, I did. And therein lies the problem: This is a show that proved itself masterful at keeping viewers tuned in to its enigmas, but without a clue as to how to resolve them. It’s a show that was wonderful at setting up intriguing situations, and terrible at making them end up anywhere coherent. It’s a show that created a handful of truly intriguing characters—and then ignored them in favor of some really boring ones. Being a FlashForward fan became the TV equivalent of being stuck in a bad marriage, like watching the person you love make bad decisions and not being able to do anything but stick with them until you ended up in divorce court.

There’s just one more Lost comparison I want to make here: Both Lost and FlashForward were, I think it’s fair to say, shows that were really meant to be viewed on DVD. They’re serial dramas with lots of mysteries, cliffhangers, and interconnected sequences that, when viewed weeks apart on television, can be frustrating as you scramble to remember all the little details and why they’re important. Viewed on DVD, one can keep the memories of each episode fresh in your mind, with no need for constant review or handholding. But while I think Lost will greatly benefit from its final DVD release, resolving a lot of unanswered questions and making a lot of scenes make more sense in retrospect, I also think FlashForward—and remember, I like the show—will suffer from its DVD release. It will make the sloppy plotting, the incoherent structure, and the questionable choice of characterization even more apparent than it was on television. It will prove that like Mark, Bryce, Lloyd, and everyone else, we were just victims of a bunch of writers in over their heads.

What do you think, FlashForward fans? Did you find “Future Shock” a fitting epitaph for the show, or yet another disappointment?

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