Every few television seasons, there is one pilot that stands out above all others. This fall, that designation belongs to the ABC show, ‘FlashForward.” On ‘FlashForward,” without warning, the entire human race lost consciousness at the exact same moment for exactly two minutes and 17 seconds. During that time, everyone’s consciousness jumped ahead to April 29, 2010, and the world got a glimpse of the future.

‘FlashForward” opens as Special Agent Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes) slowly crawls out of his overturned car. He had been in a car accident, but he was not the only one. As Benford begins to comprehend the situation, the camera pans back to reveal hundreds of crashed vehicles on the Los Angeles freeway and burning sky scrapers.

The special effects in the opening scene, and in the later scenes of ruin, were of a high caliber. There was a lot of work and money that went into creating a post-blackout LA. Most network programs place the opening credits at the bottom of the screen as the action begins to unfold. This may sound trivial, but ‘FlashForward” went in a different direction, opening with ‘An ABC Production” front and center. It felt as if that had been lifted from a frame in a movie and fit in perfectly based on the movie-caliber quality exhibited in the first scene.

After the hectic opening, the pace slowed to introduce the characters. ‘FlashForward” is more than just a mystery, it has a very strong character element.

The good shows with sci-fi elements often rely on a strong cast of characters to keep the action grounded in reality. ‘Lost” and ‘Battlestar Galactica” are two programs that exemplify this practice. For the time being, the primary focus in this ensemble will be on Benford, his wife, family and work.
The pilot episode, besides establishing the plot, also sets the tone for the series. In the case of ‘FlashForward,” that tone is dark and gritty.
Beyond the calamity of the blackouts, the characters have dark leanings. Benford, it’s revealed, is a recovering alcoholic, while one of his wife’s medical residents is suicidal. These small details give the viewer a great deal of insight into the characters in a short amount of time.
The actual flash forwards occur after a skillfully edited montage of the characters, all going about their activities. Agent Benford is in a fast-paced car chase; his wife is preparing for surgery at the hospital; her medical resident is on the pier contemplating suicide; and the Benford’s babysitter is secretly getting laid at her house. All these scenes were intercut with an orchestral score, crescendoing leading up to the moment of the flash forward.

The contents of the cast’s flashforwards vary, but the primary one is that of Benford, in which he is investigating the cause of the global blackout. His vision lays the groundwork for his FBI taskforce, in which they proceed to follow leads according to what Benford saw.

The circular logic of investigating the flashes because an agent saw himself investigating the flashes isn’t lost on the agency. At the moment, the bigger philosophical questions that come from time hopping are shifted aside. The FBI is solely concerned with investigating the cause and reason. The people have a much more personal relationship with the event.

When humanity blacked out, people were swimming, driving. There were 877 aircraft down in the United States. As the camera pans over the pier, bodies are seen floating, helpless in the ocean. Viewing the disaster in the LA area gives the audience a sense of the kind of worldwide devastation to expect. These are bolstered by glimpses of news reports and round tables.

A lot of people are comparing ‘FlashForward” to another ABC character-driven sci-fi drama, ‘Lost.” The comparison is an apt one, down to the opening scenes of confusion and chaos. They both appear to be cut from the same mold, despite their different plots. The mere presence of a large and interweaving ensemble will draw analogies to ‘Lost,” but in the case of ‘Flashforward,” it has strong writing and characters to live up to the task.

‘FlashForward” airs on ABC at 8 p.m., and is available the next day on hulu.com

Hyman is a member of
the class of 2012.

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