Jonathan Storm: “FlashForward”: Promising Sci-Fi Premise, With Answers and Seth MacFarlane

macfarlane

By Jonathan Storm

Philadelphia Inquirer Television Critic

Poor little Charlie has had a bad dream. No, she wasn’t dreaming about her baby-sitter, Nicole, fooling around downstairs on the couch with her boyfriend. “I dreamt there are no more good days,” she tells Nicole, who has rushed upstairs after passing out while fooling around downstairs on the couch with her boyfriend.

Charlie is not alone in her dreaming, and Nicole is not alone in her passing out. In ABC’s new FlashForward, premiering at 8 tonight, everybody in the world, except maybe this one guy at the Tigers game in Detroit, goes night-night at precisely the same moment, for precisely two minutes and 17 seconds.

And they all have a vision of what they’ll be doing precisely at 10 p.m. (Pacific Daylight Time) next April 29, which, not coincidentally, is a Thursday. The producers hope a lot of them are discussing the pivotal FlashForward episode when the future becomes the present, pretty clever, since that would mean the show was still around and getting ready to finish its first season with a bang during the May “sweeps.”

FlashForward is pretty clever in general, one of the big buzz magnets for the fall season ever since the cast and crew turned up at Comic Con, the big sci-fi convention in San Diego, this summer, and brought along Dominic Monaghan, who played a male Charlie in Lost, and who will turn up later in the series as the single-named Simon in a role being kept all mysterious so as to lure in the fanboys.

Seth MacFarlane, creator of the notorious Family Guy, also plays a recurring character, right from tonight’s get-go. So between the Lost boy and the bad boy, the show has lots to excite that coveted young male audience.

Not that it will seem as crackpot confusing as Lost or as insulting as Family Guy for everybody else. After you take away the spectacular chaos caused when everyone passes out simultaneously, it’s still pretty fascinating. Well-made, too, with decent acting – and the promise that answers will come with reasonable alacrity (at least by the end of the first season, rather than never, which seems to be what happens with Lost).

Two major questions:

1. Why did this flash-forward happen? Nicole thinks it’s God punishing her for her sexual exploits; other possibilities are more sinister. The producers promise clues everywhere, including that kangaroo hopping around downtown Los Angeles. But you don’t have to be crazy-obsessive to enjoy the show. You can probably skip the clues completely, and simply be involved in:

2. How will people get to (or perhaps avoid) the personal future each one sees? As ABC states, “For some, the future will be joyous and hopeful; for others, shockingly unexpected; and for a few, it simply doesn’t seem to exist.”

It’s surprising nobody thought of this intriguing premise before. Oh, all right, somebody did. His name is Robert Sawyer, and he wrote a novel, FlashForward, 10 years ago, which set the producers to thinking, though they swear up and down the flagpole that you won’t learn much about what’s going to happen in the TV show if you read the book.

The characters include a recovering alcoholic FBI agent (Joseph Fiennes, not bad for a TV show) and his surgeon wife (Sonya Walger, another Lost refugee); the agent’s partner (John Cho from Star Trek) and boss (Courtney B. Vance from Law & Order: Criminal Intent); a doctor saved from suicide by the mass blackout; the randy baby-sitter; the mysterious Simon; and a prosecutor who also shows up later (Gabrielle Union from the sadly short-lived Life).

That’s a diverse enough crowd to interest almost anybody. Combine it with the fascinating plot and the action and emotional turmoil it promises, and you don’t need to flash forward to see a show finally giving Survivor a Thursday-night ratings run for the money.

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