Like most television viewers, I first heard of ABC’s new mega-drama Flash Forward during Lost’s “The Incident” parts one and two last May. The timing of its introduction coupled with the obvious connection between the title and one of Lost’s signature plot devices make comparisons between the two shows inevitable.
Is this fair? Yes, I think it is. ABC is clearly wants Lost’s fanatical fans to throw themselves into Flash Forward with equal dedication. The fact that fan favourite Dominic Mohagan is slated to star in the series (though he was not in the pilot) should certainly help that cause. Casting Sonia Walger as the main character’s wife will help as well. (Does this signal that Walger’s already light duties as Penny will be even less needed in Lost’s final season?)
Even without ABC’s attempt to link the two shows, comparing Fast Forward to Lost is fair for the plain and simple fact that, over its five seasons, Lost established itself as the gold standard for intricate serial dramas (which I call mega-dramas). To not compare the two would be like not comparing Tiger Woods to Jack Nicklaus.
But it would be unfair to judge one episode of Flash Forward against more than 100 episodes of Lost, so let’s not rush to judge Flash Forward. Instead I’ll just note some observations without casting judgment.
What jumped out to me most about the premier of Flash Forward is that it seemed to cover an awful lot of ground awfully quickly. Our characters learned that everyone on the planet blacked out for two minutes, seventeen seconds. They also surmised that rather than merely dreaming, everyone had a pre-memory vision of where they would be at 10 p.m. pacific daylight time on April 29, 2010. We even got several looks at what the show’s central characters saw. This is obviously significant, they realize, and decide to investigate. The final scene had two characters learning that someone was awake during the blackout in a cliffhanger that I have to admit left me with chills.
Think back to the beginning of Lost. The pilot gave us a plane crash, a brief introduction to the central characters and a tantalizing glimpse at the mysteries that lurked in the jungle. Then, the show spent another 23 episodes enduring us to the characters while dropping enough mystery morsels to gradually build our interest.
Flash Forward could have gone this direction, but it seems that the writers have not. I can easily imagine a first season with episodes focused on each character’s glimpse into the future, each one weaving an ever-intricate web with the others. Along the way we would get bits and pieces of the big mystery, closing the season with the big reveal that someone (or a lot of someones) stayed conscious through the blackout.
The fact that the Flash Forward writers crammed so much into the pilot doesn’t mean they chose to forgo the kind of in-depth character development that Lost is known for, but it does sound a potential alarm. The pace of reveals in the pilot seemed forced, to the point that it was getting a little ridiculous. If that keeps up, it could signal that the show won’t spend the time enticing its viewers with an emotional investment in the show, choosing to wow them with one plot twist after another instead. Doing so would misdiagnose the reasons for Lost’s success. Yes, it has mind-blowing plot twists, but without the painstaking – sometimes too painstaking – level of detail and devotion the show built up the fans would have long ago given up on the show.
To be successful, Flash Forward must find a way to give its viewers more than just a mysterious plot. Last year’s Lost season finale had us all hoping against hope that Sawyer would hold on to Juliet in the mineshaft because we love Sawyer and wanted to see him happy. The fact that I can’t recall a single character’s name from Flash Forward’s premier episode means the show has work to do before building the loyal followers ABC wants to keep tuned to the network when Lost ends.