“No More Good Days”
ABC, Thursday, 8 PM
Teleplay and television story by David S. Goyer and Brannon Braga
Based on the novel Flashforward by Robert Sawyer
Directed by David S. Goyer
“Just because we saw these things doesn’t mean they’re going to happen.” — Mark Benson
This series should be so much more than it is going to be. It has a winning premise, an excellent cast, an obviously large budget, and some good writers on board. But these parts add up to considerably less than they should, largely because of one enormous conceptual flaw underlying this series.
FlashForward, based on the Robert Sawyer novel of the same name, tells the story of the aftermath of a stunning event: for two minutes and 17 seconds, everyone on the planet loses consciousness and sees his own future, exactly six months in advance. When everyone recovers, the aftermath is horrific: planes have crashed, traffic is a tangled mess of collisions, and surgical patients have died on the table as their surgical crews lost consciousness. Our viewpoint characters in this disaster are a couple of FBI agents, Mark Benford and Demetri Noh, played respectively by Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love) and John Cho (Star Trek). When the flash-forward strikes, they are in the midst of a car chase, and when they come to, they are surrounded by the largest traffic accident in the history of Los Angeles. Benson tries to call his wife Olivia, a surgeon (Sonya Walger, Lost). Noh tries to call the FBI offices. These opening moments recalls moments in the first episodes of Lost–bewildered people stumbling around in a daze, wearing the rags of what were good business suits a moment ago, as random animals (a kangaroo?) hop by and surreal visions of apocalyptic proportions (most of LA’s downtown buildings on fire) surround them. It’s a great, gripping opening worthy of any disaster movie.
Not content with this dynamite opening, we get convincing scenes of confusion, disorientation, and shock from the survivors. Back at FBI headquarters, in a meeting of the minds, people begin to realize that they all shared the same vision; some people remember seeing others in their vision. Dates are correlated, and media reports from around the world confirm that the event happened everywhere at the same moment. Patients undergoing MRIs at the moment of the flash-forward were recorded as having a waking consciousness–far from “blacking out”, the world’s population saw 137 seconds of the future. Or at least, most of them did–Agent Noh saw nothing, and as the implications of this are borne in on him, he becomes more and more disturbed. John Cho did an outstanding job of showing us the increasing distress Noh is trying to hide, even to his near-tears confession to his partner that his lack of a vision surely implies that he will be dead in six months. Worse confessions are to come, as one unmarried female agent ponders the implications of her vision of herself undergoing a pregnancy sonogram, another remembers only a trivial sports score, and Mark Benson remembers his investigation into this entire incident. Finally, Mark’s superior orders him and Noh to head just that investigation, anticipating the future everyone is already accepting as determined.
Which is the point where my belief in the premise of this show dropped to zero. In the book, the protagonist is a particle physicist. In the TV adaptation, he’s an FBI agent. Oh, for the love of Mike. If a unique and unexplained scientific event took place affecting every living human, which could not be explained by any known physical law, would anyone in their right mind decide that the best investigator for this phenomenon was a cop? Seriously? It absolutely makes no sense to have the FBI investigating this event, any more than we would expect them to investigate a meteor strike. This is just an attempt to add specious drama to an already dramatic concept, as if the very idea of a shared moment of mass consciousness is not thrilling enough. I do not need the added story burden of a law enforcement approach to solving a scientific mystery–and these aren’t even forensic scientists, they are street agents!
The ideal protagonist might not even be a scientist. The compelling characteristic of Lost was that the events of that show happened to normal, everyday people. There were no scientists, no experts, no law enforcement officers around to start imposing their authority on the events unfolding. It was easy for the audience to identify with the bewildered castaways. But here, the authorities take charge of the screen and the investigation. Average people are shut out, as we see in an early scene where, covered in blood and soot, Benson gives the standard “everybody calm down” speech we hear on every single police drama ever shot, anywhere. I was stunned at how quickly the show devolved from a dynamite opening to a routine police procedural, right down to turf wars in the lobby. What an amazing lack of vision and imagination. What might have been the unique event in the history of the human race is translated into a cop trying to piece together into a coherent story and find somene to blame–as if we hadn’t seen this in every police story since Dragnet.
The only thing that saved the show, for me, was the final scene, where an FBI agent scanning videotapes from around the world (a direct contradiction from the book, where all security cameras failed), spots one single person who was not affected by the event. We end with that delicious hint of conspiracy, and with the desire, not to know more about the mundane marriage trials of the protagonists, but to know more about what happened and why and how. I want to see scientists arguing over different and amazing theories of the universe. I want to see people reacting to this astonishing experience. I want someone to explore the metaphysical implications of a glimpse of the future–it should revive a lively debate on free will versus determinism. Curiosity and wonderment, that’s what drives science fiction, not the emphasis on the ordinary or even the heroic. We want that sense of wonder; reducing this story from that sublime and breathtaking moment to a plodding story of interrogation and car chases will leave it as flat as a day-old soufflé.
Certainly there seems to be a lot of curiosity about this show, and it’s not surprising given ABC’s relentless promotion of it. 12.4 million viewers, 7.7/13 households tuned in last night, pushing the pilot of this show into first place, beating even the real disaster/survival show, Survivor: Samoa. I predict large numbers for several weeks, because the idea behind the show is terrific and the network has obviously poured money into this show as it poured into Lost. The crucial difference is that, while Lost abounds in flash-backs, this show will rely on flash-forwards to drive the drama–it’s an intriguing idea, full of promise. It’s clear they want another Lost. Whether they get it will depend on whether or not Brannon Braga and his crew can resist the temptation to make this into yet another cop show.