Long before FlashForward ever aired an episode, it was heralded to be the best replacement show for devotees of the retiring Lost. Perhaps this was unfair. Either way, ABC was warned by many in the media that attempts to replicate Lost‘s success were misguided and ultimately doomed to fail (see: The Nine, Six Degrees, Invasion, etc.) as television viewers weren’t interested in serial dramas anymore. Unbowed, ABC introduced FlashForward this past fall to better than average, but not astounding reviews. This tale of what happens when the entire world simultaneously blacks out for two minutes and seventeen seconds and sees a flash of what they are doing on April 29, 2010, was heralded for an interesting conceit, some great action sequences, and actually answering the questions it raises (unlike its big brother Lost).
On the negative side, however, the series seemed to be too enamored with its concept, as if the sci-fi mystery was the thing that propelled Lost to its success, as opposed to the deep character development and interpersonal drama that actually made the Island show a hit. With each successive fall episode focusing more and more heavily on the mystery surrounding its concept, viewers began to drift away. ABC ordered that the show not return until early March (ostensibly to avoid running into the Olympics ratings vacuum), and then further delayed its return a couple more weeks. Supposedly, the creators were taking a step back to reevaluate the direction of the show, but then the author of the novel on which the series is based, David S. Goyer Robert J. Sawyer, and the series show-runner, David S. Goyer, left the production during the hiatus. Rumors of destructive turmoil spread like wildfire. The questions that seemed to be constantly asked during the last few months became whether FlashForward was going to be lucky enough to actually return in March at all, and, if it did, what shape would it be in? Would this be a show worth watching? After seeing the first two hours of its spring season, I can definitively say, Yes.
The two-hour return (Thursday, March 18th at 8:00pm EDT on ABC) has a tricky role to play. First and foremost, it must contain enough explanation of what went on the first ten episodes so anyone who was intrigued enough by commercials during The Bachelor to watch the show for the first time will understand what the heck is going on. While doing this, the story must proceed quickly enough that previous viewers, eager to rejoin the show they’re already hooked on, aren’t bored. This is a difficult needle to thread, but this spring premiere accomplishes this well. Each of the main characters’ flashes and/or situations is brought up and replayed in a manner that is both natural and integral to the story; it never seems like the show is saying “now, for all those newbies out there, here is Mark’s flash.” Simultaneously, new characters are introduced seamlessly. and woven into the story with aplomb, so the action never feels stalled like its waiting for people to catch up. Most of this is accomplished in the first hour of the premiere.
Where the show really takes off though is in the second hour. Here, the series settles down with one of the characters (it’s rather unexpected who is chosen for this treatment first) and investigates this person’s role in the blackout investigation. The chance to really explore the inner workings of the character and the motivations behind that character’s actions to date, gives the series some weightiness and purpose. Not to continue to compare the show to Lost, but that show has always been most successful in episodes where the audience is given a chance to breathe with a character, and know why Ben or Sawyer or Kate makes the decision he or she does. This is a lesson well-learned by FlashForward, and one well applied in these new episodes. One only hopes that they continue down this path.
Of course, there is still a heaping helping of mystery, intrigue, explosions, gunshots, questions and answers (and this is all still very fun to contemplate and theorize about), including: the revelation of the identity of Suspect Zero; the significance of the “Help Us” sign flashed during the title card of the fall finale, “A561984;” who kidnapped Lloyd; and the death of an important character. But once the main exposition is given in hour one, these items seem to move to the side and the shading around the focus that is the characters themselves. Is the show perfect? No, definitely not yet (I wanted to throttle the narrator that speaks in platitudes throughout the first hour), but you can see that the creators used the hiatus well to refocus the series as something that can reach the audience on a level deeper than simply “Who caused the blackout?” This is a welcome change that gives the audience something to which they can truly relate, and not just bat around in their theory-filled brains.
It is asked early in the episode, “What would it mean if everyone, everywhere, was effected by a moment at the exact same time? What would it mean to you?” If that “moment” is the return of FlashForward, I believe with it’s new-found focus, the show just might find out.
Grade for the Spring Premiere: A-