Why Flash Forward Went Backwards…



It was billed as the TV event of the year. ABC spent s small fortune on the pilot and millions more on an extensive ad campaign. It was destined to be the new Lost, a critical and commercial favorite that would run for season upon season. And yet…

And yet Flash Forward is now officially a disaster. From a premiere episode that attracted 12.4 million viewers, last Thursday the show slumped to less than 5 million and a puny 1.4 share. Which means two key things: there’s now absolutely no chance of a second season and, most crucially, viewers didn’t like what they saw. But where exactly did Flash Forward go wrong – and what lessons can be learned for future series… Here’s the Remote Patrolled take…

Pilot Error: For me the problems started from day one. Flash Forward literally began with a bang, a cataclysmic blackout that knocked everyone in the world out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds. Except people weren’t completely unaware for that period of time – but were instead given a vision of their future, 6 months down the line. And wouldn’t you know it – many of those visions were highly dramatic – Special Agent Mark Benford was being stalked by mask-wearing snipers, while his colleague Janice Hawk was getting a sonogram – a surprising development when she’s later revealed to be a lesbian, and single to boot.

It was all great set-up but there was just one key problem. After you’ve blown all that money on such a monumental event everything that then follows can’t help but be anti-climactic. You’ve blown your wad before your opening episode is out.

Sure Lost pulled a similar trick and started with a terrifying plane crash – but straight away there was the allure of the island the survivors found themselves on – and the clear sense that something wasn’t quite right – the pilot was killed by an unseen force and what was up with that polar bear? Viewers were puzzled and intrigued – it felt like a big mystery… But Flash Forward had no such gimmicks to fall back on… nothing to come could ever live up to that opening disaster, so it was downhill from the outset.

Cast Disaster: Next up, the characters. Let’s be honest the Flash Forward cast is a pretty dull bunch The beauty of Lost was its complex diversity – you simply didn’t see characters like Sayid, Jin and Sun on American TV. Flash Forward felt like a director casting within a 10-block radius of the ABC lot. Plus there were far too many cops, doctors and white urbanites. Why couldn’t any of the characters have been homeless, an actor in a downward spiral, a troubled cosmetic surgeon (instead of just a done to death doctor), a banker on the verge of a big deal – so many story possibilities and yet Flash Forward chose to go the plain old procedural route.

Tonally all the characters were serious and intense – there was no one to break up the bunch. In Lost, Charlie and Hurley provided comic relief and likeability. It was hard to root for anyone on Flash Forward. Heck there wasn’t even a Sawyer-like figure to hate. Overall the Flash Forward cast just left viewers uninterested and ambivalent. And that’s never a good way to start a series.

Plot Rot: For me Flash Forward lost me as a regular viewer at one key moment in the series. It was when Dr Lloyd Simcoe and Dr Simon Campos (played by go-to Brits Jack Davenport and Dominic Monaghan) confessed in a live TV conference that they had been responsible for the Blackout.

Now this was an event that devastated the world and left tens of millions of people dead – and yet later in the episode both characters are wandering the streets and Dr Olivia Benford’s hospital corridors – and no one bats an eyelid. No angry confrontations, unhinged screaming or even a full on police investigation – they’re just free to wander around as if they’d just confessed to a minor driving offence.

Now I don’t mind a bit of suspension of belief – I have after all sat through 8 seasons of 24. But not even Kim Bauer’s most absurd adventures have ever reached this level of ridiculousness. This was a show that was doubtless pored over by numerous TV execs with pages of copious notes – and yet no one raised a red flag. Really?

Now What: Following on from the all-bangs-and-bucks opening was the very real problem for Flash Forward of what happens next. After all when you’ve started so big anything else is a disappointment. How can you keep the show interesting – especially during that crucial saggy midway point.

On top of this when your Flash Forwards reveal something interesting is going to happen six months down the line – it’s hard not to feel like the next 6 months themselves are going to be a bit of a slog. Especially for characters whose reveal is interesting – but not exactly thrilling. It’s intriguing that Janice is going to be pregnant but is that enough to keep me interested in her for 22 episodes. Plus by seeing her ‘happy ending’ it means that she’s never going to be in jeopardy and that 24 like element of ‘anyone could die at any moment’ is lost.

Out Of Time: Flash Forward’s problems weren’t all of its own making though. I can’t help but feel it wasn’t given the best of slots to begin with. Thursdays at 8 is a peak slot but the slightly sleepy pacing and style of FF just felt more late night to me. Plus leading into Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice isn’t exactly compatible programming.

ABC would have been smarter to pair up Flash Forward and V and launch a sci-fi slot on a different night – say Tuesdays for example. Or keep Ugly Betty on Thursday and put Flash in that Wednesday at 10 slot. Ah, hindsight!

Schedule wise of course we can’t dismiss the impact of breaking up the show with a 3-month hiatus in the middle. It certainly didn’t help Forward’s ratings – or that crucial midsection momentum we discussed. To be fair to ABC though, the show was already sinking by the time it first went off the air.  They lost faith in the show 6 weeks in, and knew it was never going to regain viewers (these complex arced series just can’t). The death sentence had already been signed.

Fallen Heroes: One more reason why Flash Forward struggled? I’d blame the Heroes factor. NBC’s complex superheroes saga started so strong and so big – and plummeted so quickly – that I think it made audiences super savvy and much quicker to turn off a show they think is going to go down the same road.

Investing 22 hours of your life into a series is a pretty big commitment – so you want to feel the show makers know where they’re going. Heroes didn’t – and Flash Forward had the same air of quiet desperation – long drawn out scenes that went nowhere (including a talky 10 minute poker game between Lloyd and Simon that was one of the slowest and most draggy scenes I’ve ever seen on primetime TV), a lack of tightness and pace (oh how I miss the 24 ticking clock) and too many characters and plot strands I just couldn’t care less about. Why invest almost a day of my life in a show that can’t even keep me interested for an hour?

Season 2: And finally – there was the ultimate dilemma for the show – how on earth do you do a Season 2?

Now I know the producers argued they had a whole mythology worked out ahead of time – but really any future series had to hinge on one key factor – more Blackouts – because a show without flash forwards can’t really be called Flash Forward. But who’s really going to believe such a once in a lifetime event can keep happening – for a fourth, fifth or sixth season. Flash Forward was always going to feel like a one time only event. But as a viewer I want to get invested in a series for good – not just for a year. In a way the show was doomed from the start…

So that’s where I think Flash Forward went wrong – but what do you think? Are you still watching the show… and will you see it through until the end? Get commenting…!