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The power of premise

October 18, 2009

Still in new-baby catch-up mode, I got round to watching the pilot for Flash Forward last night. ABC are presumably hoping to replicate the success of Lost, now in the home straight, although the writing and directing in the FF opener make it Lost’s poor second cousin twice removed. But what it does have going for it is a terrific premise: everyone on the planet simultaneously blacks out as they ‘flash forward’ six months to the same point in time and all get to see two minutes of their own future. Are they bound by fate or can they use their foreknowledge to influence that future?

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It’s a drama that I don’t think was supposed to be laugh out loud funny, but when I wasn’t guffawing I was mostly groaning.

This was heavy handed lazy storytelling that bludgeoned the audience with comically on-the-nose expository dialogue and traded subtlety and mystery for expensive set pieces and cookie-cutter characterisation.

The opening showed great potential, mass vehicle pile ups, aircraft falling from the sky, hell, even Big Ben in London was on fire so the world must be in trouble. But this was Apocalypse-lite. The hospital where the female lead is a surgeon – and we know how smart she is when she intervenes to save a boy’s life without breaking into a sweat – is quieter than the quietest of days in Chicago’s County General. All of those casualties must not have had the right health insurance and were stacked up outside one of LA’s public hospitals while our female lead was able to clean up – not that she needed it – at the end of her shift and head on home in her car along roads which just hours before had been all but impassable.

And is it just me or did her husband not seem a tad young to have had a such a long history of drinking that one more lapse would be enough for her to leave him? And for it not to have affected his career where he seems to have some authority at the FBI?

The scenes at the FBI were the most cringeworthy. Arggh, the dialogue. One of the values of a high concept premise is that it demands little exposition. But Flash Forward really laboured the point, explaining and explaining everything with such a heavy hand that it was an irritating distraction. Yeah, we get it, move on. All that time talking when the story’s potential could have been more fully explored and exploited.

Often if struggling with dialogue the temptation is to say more, to somehow say it better, when what’s needed is to say less or nothing at all.

The show’s flaws weren’t purely down to the script – some of the face-pulling, sorry, acting, had me chuckling – but bad writing makes the actor’s job harder and it’s hard to know who to blame. The director, I guess.

So, a load of hokum. And yet, I can’t wait to watch the next episode.

That’s the power of a great premise.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2009 11:19 am

    I fell asleep during some particularly dull dialogue in episode two. So that was that. Another hope dashed.

  2. terraling permalink*
    October 19, 2009 12:43 pm

    Worryingly if you search twitter for “#flashforward dialogue” it seems to be a recurring complaint about subsequent episodes. It’s hard to believe with the resources these people have that they can get something so basic so wrong. The show-runners must be good in a room.

    I trust your beat-matching big-budget genre thriller is better!

  3. October 19, 2009 12:47 pm

    I’d guess that flashforward’s trauma-ridden gestation has resulted in everyone hedging their bets and playing it safe. You know, treat the audience like dimwits. Spoon-feed them.

    Arseholes.

    But yes, our big-budget genre thriller will indeed knock FlashForward into a cocked hat, kick it down the street and deposit a half-eaten kebab onto it. We changed the opening, too. The beats don’t match now.

    THEY’RE BETTER. MU HAR HAR HAR etc.

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