The Flash Forward

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So tonight marks the second episode of ABC's new Lost-ish drama (despite the HILARIOUS Entertainment Weekly article to the contrary), FlashForward, and the boyfriend and I have been looking forward to it all week. We were actually apart all day Saturday and when we regrouped on Sunday morning, we both commented we'd spent that entire day thinking of the show. I'm crossing my fingers it a) doesn't get lame and b) doesn't get canceled as it's the first time in a long time I've liked a show this much off the hop (okay not a long time - I picked up Friday Night Lights and Mad Men in the summer of 2008).

Regardless...many people are wary of FlashForward because of its ties to Lost, and the slightly disappointing (there, I said it) way the show has turned out. As a Slate commentator pointed out in regards to the wholly different Mad Men's Don Draper, the more you shroud something in mystique, the more of a letdown the ending is bound to be.

The FlashForward is a relatively new technique being used increasingly enthusiastically by various television programs - but it's not always successful. Here's a quick breakdown of a few of the most famous examples, and my thoughts on each.

Lost - the show is VERY much centered on flashes forwards and backwards, and has been from day one. The backwards flashes were more successful in the sense they were wholly character driven vignettes that explained who this person was, how they ended up on the island, and why they were the way they were. The forwards were merely plot-driven, plodding scenes that focused almost entirely on returning TO that same island. That being said, the 'true' flash here occurs in the Season 3 finale, when it's revealed that several of the castaways make it back to their homeland, and manage to live there for three whole years before they get the itch to come back. This shock value made for possibly the best finale of Lost in a very shrouded, tricky episode (aside from S5's finale that made up for the rest of a very crummy season), but the execution was less than awesome, as mentioned.
Grade: B - great introduction, horrible execution. Bonus points for sticking to a human timeline (i.e. plane crash in 2004, flash forwards in 2004 - 2007).

Alias - JJ Abrams' first delve into the Flash Forward - keeping in mind I watched Alias after Lost, and was surprised to see him re-use this plot device in the latter show. At the end of a rather gripping S2 finale, Sydney wakes up in Hong Kong (or some equally busy, confounding city) and discovers she's been missing for two years, with no memory of her whereabouts - her father is in prison, her mother is in hiding again, and her former boyfriend is married - making for a very dark, very delicious Season 3 of the series. I wasn't that into Alias up until this point. JJ Abrams finally shocked the viewer in an unpredictable way (and this was having seen him do a flash forward in Lost dammit!) and didn't let things go as lightly as he tends to with other Alias plot lines - Sydney's two-year mind gap is the major focus for the first half of the season. It actually could have made for a season-long stretch (perhaps the argument made for why the flash-forwards in Lost were stretched out over two goddam seasons), especially after it was wrapped up so brusquely by none other than Terry O'Quinn's (Locke on Lost) character on Alias, and swapped in for a rather irritating double agent storyline with Vaughn's new wife.
Grade: B+ - The flash forward was used effectively here as a game changer. The world Sydney returns to is wholly different, and dark, and it was nice to see her on uneven footing for a change. As much as it was killing me to figure out wtf happened to her, it was also fascinating and awesome. I just wish the episode where they reveal all at once didn't happen - it was WAY too convenient and easy.

One Tree Hill - Say what you will, I think One Tree Hill made some very smart decisions when it came to the way they structured the show. The only downfall being the actors continually aging and looking increasingly distant from their fictional ages. The first four seasons were set in high school, and, realizing their fans would probably balk for four more 'school age' years with the characters split up at college & various career opportunities, they fast forwarded the show four years and a bit to all kinds of changes - Lucas engaged (but not to any major character)! Peyton living alone in LA working in the music biz (but not how you'd expect)! Brooke on top of the world in NYC (and feeling incredibly lonely)! Nathan's NBA dreams dashed (wheelchair)! And well, Hayley's a teacher with a normal, adorable child. The downside to this particular flash is the lack of acknowledgment of time. In one of the first episodes of S5, Luke is using an iPhone. Which makes you wonder...okay, when were the high school years set? What year did these kids graduate (I can't remember, nor do I remember any major signage indicating what year it was during their graduation episodes)? Did they actually graduate in 02 or 03 and the new season is set in 06 or 07? Now they've used the device again, jumping forward 14 months mostly to get past the awkward 'Lucas & Peyton are off the show but we can't write them out properly' debacle. Jury's out on how effective it is so far, other than I'm happy I didn't have to suffer through endless "Nathan reaches for his dreams!" episodes and Brooke / Julian continued 'You're never around' episodes. I've had enough of that in the first few this season.
Grade: A- If you can get past the time crunch, the fast forward was a welcome relief from the typically unsuccessful college years, and the resulting situations we find our heroes in have taken two seasons to resolve, if not longer in some cases.

Mad Men - Here's a show that uses a fast forward with care. It helps that it's a period piece that can actually use specific dates and times and historical events - and know the outcome - to mine their storylines from. Admittedly it's always a bit jarring to find yourself fast forwarded several weeks, months, years down the line at the start of each season, but Mad Men's timeline per episode is much wider than any other TV show I've ever watched. It really only helps add to the show's realism as characters move forward with their lives and careers independently of a typical television program.
Grade: A This is how fast forwards can be done - but keeping in mind that Mad Men has an unfair advantage of their show rigidly adhering to a timeline fifty years in the making.

Desperate Housewives - At the end of Season 5, perhaps to spice things up from waning viewers, the show fast forwarded five years in a OTH-style twist, completely unbent from time considerations, and even more annoyingly, age. The OTH characters benefited from the forward motion, looking more their fictional ages, but the DH ladies are now in cougar/menopause town, and it's hardly been acknowledged. Unlike OTH, which used the FF to avoid tedious storylines, DH wasn't really in that position, other than perhaps us getting to skip a ton of "Gabby's a stressed out horrible mom!" stories. When you consider the approximate ages of each character, they're all damn close to the 50 mark, but often comments on the show suggest the opposite. Plus the fun new developments - Gabby has two chubby kids, Lynnette's kids are finally teens, Edie has a new husband and is moving back to town - were severely underused. Last season fell flat, among the worst of the series in my opinion (along with S2's horrible Applewhite mystery), mostly because the untangling of the storylines from episode 1's fast forward didn't feel fresh, as Mark Cherry's likely intention, they felt tired and tried - and strained given the fact these ladies are five years older and still behaving like they're the spring blossoms that attracted sexy shirtless gardeners *NINE* "show years" (the first four seasons + the five-year fast forward).
Grade: C- Why bother with a flash if you're only going to give us a peek as to how it affects your characters lives?

That's all for now...cross your fingers with me the ultimate "forward" show holds true and keeps me thinking this week.

- Britt's On

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