FlashForward Still Has Potential, But Can the Show Be Saved?

Fans of FlashForward—we know you’re out there—are probably sick of the Lost comparisons. We know that FlashForward's producers are sick of the Lost comparisons (though, really, they have no one to blame but themselves). Frankly, even we critics are sick of the Lost comparisons. But until the show manages to find its own voice and direction, something that seems more unlikely with every episode, we can’t help but notice how similar it is to Lost in every way but being a successful television show.

It’s not as if FlashForward's creators haven’t tried to tinker with the formula a bit. Despite all the juicy sci-fi craziness and conspiratorial enigmas inherent in a show about a global blackout that causes huge segments of the population to catch tantalizing and disturbing visions of the future, FlashForward made a conscious decision early on to switch up the proportions of the Lost recipe, blending some 75 percent angst-ridden soap opera with 25 percent science-fiction mystery. This turned out to be about as appealing as macaroni and cheese made with two ounces of pasta and a gallon of sauce, and is a big reason the show floundered in the early goings.

When FlashForward returned from its midseason hiatus, it promised to shake things up in ways that would satisfy those viewers who'd stuck around while still drawing in new ones. It didn’t exactly succeed, and part of the reason for that was chaos in the writers’ room. No sooner had superhero scribe David S. Goyer, best known as the author of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, signed on as showrunner than he resigned the post, leaving it to his wife—and maybe it’s just as well: Judging from the often-hokey dialogue and the overemphasis on explication, we were seeing less of the David Goyer of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and more of the David Goyer of Kickboxer 2: The Road Back and Dollman vs. Demonic Toys.

For a show that likes to explain itself so much—often at the risk of the kind of dramatic tension it so badly needs—FlashForward has been slow to dole out the twists. Lost may keep you waiting weeks or even years for a revelation, but at least you know one is coming; FlashForward frequently leaves you wondering if it has any answers, and when they finally arrive, it’s in exposition overload. (Pity poor Gabrielle Union, a fine actress who gets stuck with the brunt of the tell-don’t-show dialogue; if she didn’t get lines explaining what the audience has already figured out, she’d hardly say anything at all.)

And this illuminates one of the biggest problems FlashForward has, one that it’s going to have to address (and soon) if it’s going to avoid cancellation and become the excellent show it still has the potential to be. This is a show that's invested a lot of time and money into its lead characters, and now that a number of them have turned out to be duds, it doesn’t know what to do about them. Joseph Fiennes as Mark Benford is a source of unintended laughs a lot more often than he is the moral center he’s intended to be; Gabrielle Union functions like a human footnote; and Jack Davenport is a portentous mess who just seems to take up space. There aren’t a lot of shows with a supporting cast as strong as this one, which is why it’s such a shame that FlashForward rarely gives them something to do. Sonya Walger, John Cho, and the ever-wonderful Ricky Jay are all terrific actors, but even when they’re given decent scenes, they’re forced to recite hooty dialogue that rarely takes the plot forward.

Still, there’s reason to hope. After its break, FlashForward came roaring back with the “Revelation Zero” two-parter that added new layers of depth to the series’ mythology, gave Dominic Monaghan a more satisfying role, and set up a sequence of events that has depicted Michael Massee’s Dyson Frost in such a sinister light that you wish the whole show was told from his point of view. The introduction of James Callis (Battlestar Galactica’s Dr. Gaius Baltar) was solid, and has given fans something to look forward to. And the spooling out of Christine Woods’ Janice Hawk as a mole has finally given her character some weight and interest.

But in a medium where perception is bigger than reality, there are plenty of people who think FlashForward has run itself into the ground, and the show doesn’t have much time to convince them otherwise. After that gripping two-parter, FlashForward went off the rails again, floundering from one misstep to the next until it crashed during “Better Angels”, an episode that played like a parody of itself. Last week’s “The Garden of Forking Paths” was the best episode we’ve seen in months, and finally moved the show forward in terms of its half-hearted mythology; this week’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” shows promise, and might actually involve the producers making some of the tough decisions they need to make to get viewers involved in the characters’ fates. But with only four episodes left until the season finale, it may be too little too late.

What do you think, FlashForward viewers? Is the show circling the drain—or finally building up steam?

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