ABC exploits the popularity of science fiction better than any other major network. After successfully marketing Lost, a potentially niche-only program about time travel and monsters, with resounding success, the network is pushing the boundaries of geeky television further both by updating the iconic evil-alien series V in November and using an adaptation of FlashForward, an obscure sci-fi novel written by Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer, to fill the moody and mysterious gap Lost will leave behind when it wraps up in 2010.
Created by Sawyer, former Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise producer Brannon Braga, and Dark Knight co-writer David Goyer, FlashForward quickly dispenses with the novel’s scientific approach in favor of a Lost-style, balls-out mystery-fest. While changing the central character from a particle physicist working on a large hadron collider to an F.B.I. agent who chases down terrorists in a destructive freeway car chase may disappoint fans of elegant science fiction, the show’s ability to immediately engage viewers with its enigmatic characters and intriguing premise pushes those concerns right out the window.
Following a collection of loosely connected characters, FlashForward begins by showing the immediate aftermath of a worldwide cataclysm: Suddenly, at the same time, everyone on the planet passes out. Now, if everyone were watching television or sitting down, an event of this nature would be no big deal, but factor in all the cars in motion, commercial airliners in flight, and open heart surgeries going on at any given time, and things go to hell quite quickly. If that weren’t enough, while unconscious, the population experiences short visions of themselves six months in the future. Some see clues to the cause of this mess, some see themselves cheating on their spouses, and some, well, they don’t see anything at all.
The premise plays with ideas like the malleability of fate, the existence of destiny, and a whole bucketload of other pseudo-philosophical brainteasers. Were these visions only a glimpse of one possible future or are the characters predestined to live them out? If the time comes and a character acts differently than his or her visions, will it cause some sort of weird causality loop that messes up the space-time continuum? FlashForward is filled with silly questions like these that make for great television.
Next to the psychobabble, the actual reason behind everyone’s flash forward feels secondary. In his vision, F.B.I. Agent Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes) sees himself investigating the source of these visions, which gives him clues of a major conspiracy and cover-up brewing. Whatever the outcome, be it a solar flare, God punishing the world, or an angry Minnesota Twins fan, the interplay between fate and freewill fuels the drama more than the mystery itself. If FlashForward can keep the momentum it set in its premiere episode, the show’s apocalyptic tone and fate-bending intrigue should prove deeply fascinating.