Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Why I'm not optimistic about FlashForward

I've been meaning to blog about the show FlashForward for a while now. It's not a bad show. I think it has a great premise (basically, everyone gets a vision of their future, six months from now) and it has good production, acting, and some flashes of humor that's actually well-executed. It's a show that I should be in love with. But I'm not.

The problem is that the show isn't that interesting. Maybe I should add the qualifier "yet", but I don't really expect it to get better. Let me explain why. As I said earlier, the premise is really good, and you can take it in some really interesting directions. You can take it in a scientific direction by trying to find a rational cause for the flash forwards (which was evidently how the source material explained it). You can take a religious tack and maybe go in a supernatural direction, a la The X-Files or Twin Peaks, and try to uncover a mystery that way. Or maybe you could try some kind of "Lower Decks" approach and have normal people try to figure it out with limited information and rumors, or some combination of all these approaches and then some. But the show takes the most straightforward and boring approach to the material imaginable--i.e. the police procedural. As in, the most omnipresent and worn-out genre of the past six decades. Seriously, it's like CSI:LA with Shakespeare and Harold. Most of the episodes so far have involved Joseph Fiennes remembering something from his FlashForward, spending most of the episode tracking it down, and coming up mostly empty. But then he finds another clue in the last few minutes, which sets up next week's plot. After watching a number of these, it's become clear that you don't really have to watch the episodes to get the one or two clues that propel the overall arc forward--you just need to watch the "scenes from the last episode" every week. Why not do something else with that hour? And while the acting is solid, the characters themselves are weak, lacking in real inner lives that don't directly contribute to the plot. Orwell, in his criticism of Dickens, wrote that the standard for writing a good character should be: can you picture yourself having a conversation with the character? It's a good standard. I can't imagine what I'd say to Pip or Ebeneezer Scrooge. (Maybe, "That Estella sure was something!" or "You greedy bastard!" respectively, which just proves Orwell's point.) The same holds for Fiennes's character in the show. Or anyone else, for that matter. Their problems are implied rather than shown, and the characters service the plots. So why should I tune in? I don't know.

The show is pretty clearly indebted to LOST--the whole hour of melodrama, bookended by significant revelations, is LOST's structure to a T, and the whole notion of people coming to grips with a disaster and trying to figure out what to do is also a big part of LOST. But FlashForward strikes me as a statement of the creative bankruptcy of network television at this particular moment. If LOST's first season had been as risktaking as FlashForward, it would have centered on a diverse crew of special agents who investigate the disappearance of the LOST plane and all its passengers, make discoveries about the passengers (There's a prisoner on the plane! The bartender told us that Jack's dad met Sawyer! Hurley's numbers keep showing up on the paperwork! etc.) and dangle a clue in front of us every week. That show might or might not be worth watching (I doubt it would be very successful) but if LOST had come out today instead of five years ago, it would almost certainly have been more like this show than like itself. After all, it's the same network. But LOST came out before CBS skyrocketed to the top of the ratings by creating an alphabet soup of their primetime offerings, so this is what we get. I guess ABC wouldn't want to take a risk on a show about scientists working on a superconducting supercollider experiment going wrong (which was the book's explanation for the flashes forward, by the way). So, the most interesting new premise on network TV winds up being thoroughly homogenized and while I like enough about the show to keep tuning in and I am interested in unraveling the mystery, I'm not too optimistic that it will prove very entertaining or rewarding.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.