“FlashForward’s” bold leap into the future would benefit from an ability to erase the past, or at least eradicate memories of all the “Lost”-like concepts — dense, heavily serialized and generally short-lived — that foundered long before they could be resolved. Strictly grading the pilot, it’s an intriguing, mind-bending concept that’s mostly well executed, with a built-in payoff cleverly timed to coincide with the May rating sweeps. The bottom line is after one hour, there’s a solid desire to see more, but not such wonderment as to proclaim unwavering fealty until the show peers a little farther down the road.
The premise is certainly arresting: At the same moment, everyone in the world blacks out for 137 seconds. Beyond the mayhem that ensues — planes crashing, cars overturning, etc., in a break-the-bank special-effects sequence near the outset — everybody has glimpsed a surreal but grimly convincing vision of the future exactly six months ahead. (As in April 30, the first Thursday of the spring sweeps period. Nifty.)
These dream-like scenarios, which often hint at dramatic changes in the lives of the cast, are unnerving to the central characters. Foremost among them are an FBI agent, Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes); his doctor wife (Sonya Walger); and Benford’s partner (John Cho).
Fairly soon (and frankly, a little too soon), with Benford leading the way, the bureau sets about investigating what might have been responsible for this inexplicable global mass paralysis, the scope of which speaks to a hidden hand containing enormous power. Yet after the arresting introduction, the show’s focus narrows considerably to a more personal look at this handful of characters, which is understandable dramatically (and financially) but slightly disappointing in terms of the bigger picture.
Series creators David S. Goyer and Brannon Braga possess strong sci-fi pedigrees (including CBS’ underrated “Threshold”) and have said that everyone in this universe will have their own unique flash-forward story, making the plot potential expansive. Moreover, the pilot ends with a nifty twist that definitely augments the mystery regarding who — or what — might be responsible.
For all that, though, “FlashForward” is an extremely delicate construct, leaving the producers precious little wiggle room as they walk its narrative tightrope.
That said, it’s at least a good start, with a strong cast that also includes Courtney B. Vance as Benford’s boss, a guest shot by Alex Kingston as a British agent and Brian F. O’Byrne as a friend of Mark’s whose daughter is missing.
Credit ABC not just with the creative gamble but also with boldly scheduling the program on a night where it could do significant business, as opposed to the more obvious pairing with “Lost” in January. As for whether success awaits, that will largely depend on whether the producers’ crystal ball is less murky than mine.