Sometimes you watch a one season show and come to the end angry that your show isn’t coming back, othertimes you get there and you feel that although the show won’t come back, it made an impact and did enough. Other times you reach the end and as the closing credits play for the last time, you think to yourself “well that was an epic waste of everyone’s time, energy and talent”. Guess which one FlashForward falls into?
Reading back over my review of the pilot is quite sad, I was filled with such hope, which all came to nothing. I am quietly smug though that while I liked the pilot, I highlighted two big problem areas which would later come to be the show’s undoing – uninteresting characters, and untrustworthy writing.
The characters started out lacking spark, and as the season went on many of them didn’t change. There were a couple of them that had moments where they stopped being single issue, whiny, faintly useless lumps, but only brief moments. The biggest problem though was the big black hole of a charisma vacuum where a leading man should have been. Joseph Fiennes’ Mark Benford alternated between quietly tormented and dementedly psychotic and yet somehow managed to be dull throughout. I really was routing for his wife to leave him and shack up with the British scientist as he was a lot more interesting.
The other thing I was worried about was that a show like this needs to give its viewers confidence that the writers know where they’re going, that they’re not just making it up as they go along. In my piece about the mid-season relaunch I was a bit more optimistic, seeing that they’d ‘retconned’ some stuff so it made more sense and taking things in a slightly new direction. I think they stuck with that reasonably well for the rest of the season, but it did turn out to be too little too late. The giant conspiracy stuff also got away from me a bit, I lost track of it all and didn’t care enough to catch up.
There really was a bit too much going on, a giant conspiracy, something about military contractors, scientists, and dozens of character threads. Too many of the plots were completely isolated – the love triangle of Bryce searching for the girl of his flashforward while developing a friendship with another girl, it was a sweet story, but had nothing to do with anything else. Likewise the story of Benford’s sponsor and his MIA daughter didn’t connect back strongly enough to make it feel like their arc was anything other than filler. I get that those stories are there to illustrate how the flashforwards changed people’s lives, but it would have been nice if there’d been more linking.
Likewise the balance between the intellectual stuff and the action could have been handled more smoothly. As I commented mid-season, the intellectual stuff was quite interesting, but they didn’t do enough of it. I had far more interesting conversations with friends about the philosophy of alternate timelines and pre-destined behaviour than was ever hinted at in the show. Meanwhile the action was just a bit dull, each time they got in a big gun battle I just found myself dozing off; the good guys were invincible and the bad guys were faceless and useless.
This was demonstrated pretty impressively in the finale. All the stuff with the gun battle in the FBI building that Benford had seen was just really boring, distracting from the really interesting stuff about the flashforwards. This was the whole reason I’d kept watching, I wanted to see people experience the two minutes that they’d seen so long ago come true (or not). I thought it was pretty well handled, there were enough twists that it wasn’t predictable, but not so many that it felt like it was cheating. I was impressed and intrigued that the next flashforward came so soon but showed a time so far in the future – giving the series a new lease of life for the second season and a new twist seeing how people deal with a flashforward to 2 years away, instead of just a few months. But of course we’re not going to see any of that, so all I’m left with is a faint sense of frustration.
There are some single-season shows I will happily recommend to people (Firefly, Wonderfalls, Studio 60 etc), FlashForward will not be one of them. It will go down in my memory as a great ‘could have been’. The show just never really came together properly, it always felt too much like the writers were constructing a recipe “two scoops romance, one cup action, three tablespoons of philosophy” but then forgot to actually bake it together to make a cake at the end of it. Maybe there was too much network meddling, maybe the showrunners just weren’t invested enough, or maybe everyone was just trying too hard, but for whatever reason FlashForward was an embarrassing failure – critically, creatively and commercially.