Review by KC Carlson
While it may be titled FlashForward: The Complete Series, viewers need to be warned that — despite including all 22 episodes of this high-concept sci-fi/thriller series, plus copious bonus features — this five-disc DVD set doesn’t tell a complete story, as the series was was badly mishandled by ABC and ultimately canceled before revealing all of its intricate secrets.
Plus, the box set inadvertently throws salt on the open wound with the misleadingly titled FlashForward: A Look Ahead featurette. The title makes you think that you’re getting the lowdown on what might have happened if the series hadn’t been canceled. Instead, it’s simply a five-minute preview of clips assembled to entice viewers to come back to the show after its ABC-imposed 3 1/2-month hiatus — something that ultimately didn’t happen, and led to its ultimate cancellation.
Based on the 1999 SF novel by Robert J. Sawyer and adapted for TV by Brannon Braga and David S. Goyer, FlashForward largely deals with the reactions of the world’s population following a total global blackout. During that time, people saw their futures in a dreamlike state while unconscious. In the novel, the FlashForwards occurred 21 years in the future. It was decided for the show to keep the futures just a few months away — amusedly picking a date when the actual series would most likely air its season finale (assuming that everything went well — which it didn’t).
Almost the entire world fell unconscious for 137 seconds, causing untold destruction and many thousands of deaths. (Virtually every airplane in the sky at the time crashed, without even taking into account millions of automobile accidents.) All of which were shown with high-quality, super production standards, creating an SFX extravaganza that the two-hour pilot portrays in detail.
Most of the key cast (including Joseph Fiennes, John Cho, Christine Woods, and Courtney B. Vance) portray FBI agents investigating the phenomena — including the possibility the incident would happen again. Other cast members include Jack Davenport, Sonya Walger, Dominic Monaghan, Brian F. O’Byrne, and Peyton List as either characters related somehow to the main FBI cast or characters who may be involved in the rapidly escalating conspiracy behind the FlashForwards.
The FlashForwards themselves show the main characters in typical soap-opera developments, such as entering into affairs, or lapsing back into alcoholism, or discovering romance with someone they haven’t met yet. An unattached lesbian character is shown giving birth. A man whose soldier daughter was killed in Afghanistan sees her alive. Another character is apparently being drowned by an unknown person. In one of the show’s few bits of humor, the FBI chief is shown sitting on a toilet reading a newspaper for his entire FlashForward. Another FBI agent has no FlashForward at all, assuming that this means he will die — something confirmed by a mysterious phone call days later. The FlashForwards are obviously the focal point of the ongoing personal dramas, but for me, many of them were so ambiguously filmed that it was easy to extrapolate any number of interpretations based on the often skimpy details.
Fortunately, the lead FBI agent’s FlashForward included him actually investigating the case, so they have a lot of information available about the phenomenon up-front — if they can only correctly interpret it. The investigation quickly escalates into a global conspiracy, including mysterious cults, a Quantum entanglement device, previous isolated blackouts, and a mysterious “Suspect Zero” who did not lose consciousness during the blackout. A key early moment of the series is when one of the main characters figures out that the FlashForwards don’t necessarily have to happen as they are portrayed and does something dramatic and moving to prove it.
Part of the problem that the show faced (which is becoming a trend with many of today’s new high-concept programs) is that FlashForward would have been better served with a finite endpoint. Too many episodes seemed liked wasted time, rushing back and forth across the planet to investigate something that may-or-may-not be a part of the big picture, and it was occasionally difficult to remember what was important and what was not. Further, the balance wasn’t quite right between the high-concept mythology aspects of the show (especially the oft-confusing super-science) verses the crowd-pleasing soap opera and personal storylines of the characters — many of which were compelling, but, again, somewhat difficult to place within the overall fabric of the show. Ironically, the show was first developed by HBO, which let it go to ABC when it was felt that the show was more like a typical broadcast network show.
Beyond the regular cast, there are an embarrassment of riches of great character actors in supporting roles, including Gabrielle Union, Lee Thompson Young, Alex Kingston, Annabeth Gish, Gil Bellows, Peter Coyote, Lindsay Crouse, Gina Torres, and the always entertaining Ricky Jay, as well as many, many others.
Bonus DVD Features
Architects of Destiny — a 20-minute behind-the-scenes covering the entire season and asking “What do people do with the emotional baggage upon waking up after the FlashForward?” It features most of the cast and about a bizillion Executive Producers (which may be part of the problem with this show — too many cooks).
FlashForward on Set — About 15 minutes of closer looks at some of the show’s key scenes, including much stunt work and showing the entire scope of the blackout.
Meet Yuko — a 5 1/2-minute feature focusing on cast member Yuko Takeuchi, a huge star in Japan, but unknown in America. She plays Keiko in one of the show’s most endearing, yet frustrating, subplots. The actress is remarkably charming, even in this puff piece about her.
Interviews From the Mosaic Collection — a bunch of two-minute interviews with everyday people about how the FlashForward event affected their lives. These are actually outtakes from an unused series of interviews called Stories From the Mosaic, presented by a fictional Public Television Channel. At least nine more interviews are included as Easter Eggs on the last disc, effectively making this bonus feature outtakes from a series that you probably didn’t know existed in the first place.
Creating Catastrophe: The Effects of a Global Blackout — a seven-minute feature about filming the stunts/effects for the pilot.
The aforementioned FlashForward: A Look Ahead and Could, a 1:30 piece described in the ABC press release as “a dramatic look at the second half of FlashForward, narrated by Dominic Monaghan” but actually another ABC promotional clip piece recapping the first half of the season, following the hiatus.
Speaking of Monaghan, there’s also an Easter Egg of him discussing how he taught himself how to solve Rubik’s Cube while on-set. Wow, I guess the show was boring for everybody! There’s also a short Easter Egg of actress Christine Woods (playing Janis Hawk — one of the show’s standout characters) being attacked by a fly while being interviewed on-camera.
There’s only one episode commentary, for Revelation Zero, by actor Dominic Monaghan and Executive Producer Jessika Borsiczy. Plus the usual deleted scenes (about 15 minutes’ worth) and a three-minute blooper reel.
Which leaves us with Kangaroo?, two minutes about that damn kangaroo that showed up in the middle of the global catastrophe in the pilot. All I remember about the kangaroo is that in the original airing of the the pilot, right after the kangaroo appeared, ABC cut to a commercial. But before the commercial played there was a short ABC promo/recap of the kangaroo with this voice-over: “Wow! Did’ja see that kangaroo?!? Huh, did’ja?? Did’ja, did’ja, did’ja?!!!!?!? What the hell was that?!? That was SO weird, huh? Right? Weird, like Lost-weird! Right??? See — this show’s just as cool and freaky as Lost!!! Right? Huh?” (Well, that’s how I remember it, anyway…)
Anyway, in that 15 seconds, ABC managed to create yet another TV trope: “Jumping the Kangaroo” — the point at which your loving homage to another beloved series becomes instead a blatant rip-off. (As if the billboards for Oceanic Airlines earlier in the episode weren’t enough.)
FlashForward deserved better. The show had a remarkable cast, some occasional heads-up writing (when they weren’t spending so much time chasing the mythology), and deserved to have a satisfying wrap-up. In my brain, ABC Executives were somehow behind the global conspiracy. Watching the show will be frustrating knowing that it doesn’t successfully wrap itself up, but it’s worth watching for the small moments.
But find a way to watch it where it doesn’t profit ABC/Disney. Not only did they screw over viewers by waiting too long to actually cancel it (leaving no time to produce a satisfying wrap-up), but they’re also screwing the hard-core fans who bought the Part 1 DVD set earlier this year (of the first 10 episodes) by not producing a Part 2 — forcing fans to re-purchase those episodes with this Complete Series set. At least Fox finally came around and did the right thing with a similar Part 1/Part 2 situation with their Glee DVD releases. But then again, Glee is a successful show, one that Fox successfully supported and publicized. FlashForward deserved better.
It’s also unfortunate that FlashForward’s most interesting storyline — what was going on behind-the-scenes in the real world production of the show, since it burned through showrunners like they were kindling — wasn’t documented as a DVD extra. Now, that would have been worth the price of admission! (The studio provided a review copy.)