Flashforward the Complete Series DVD Review
Posted by Michael Weyer on 09.03.2010
The daring but ultimately unsuccessful sci-fi drama comes to DVD with good extras that highlight the great potential that could have been.
Flash Forward the Complete Series
Seeing as how ABC began the rush for serialized storytelling with Lost, it makes sense they would want to replicate that success. With that epic series about to end, ABC tried to fill the void with Flash Forward. It seemed to have the ingredients for success with a terrific concept, good cast and layers of plots and mysteries that promised plenty of material for some time to come. The producers even boasted having a five-year plan in place for the show, things plotted out nicely. However, after a strong start, the show started to falter as viewers seemed unsure of holding to the slow pace of the mystery. ABC did compound things by keeping the show off the air for four months in the middle of the season but the fact remains that the series never truly became the water-cooler hit most expected and it was canceled just before the airing of its finale.
It’s a shame as the show, while having its share of faults, still boasts a good cast and sharp writing to push its cool concept alone. It tackles directly the ideas of fate vs. free will and some pretty cool twists and turns. It’s a shame it lasted only one year as there was so much potential involved, especially in the final episodes. But at least we get one season of a show that may have reached too far but should be credited for the try.
Based on the novel by Robert J. Sawyer, the show begins on the morning of October 9th, 2009. In Los Angeles, it's a normal day: FBI Agent Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes) is heading to work while his wife Olivia (Sonya Walger) is ready for her shift as a surgeon. They leave behind Nicole Kirby (Peyton List) to watch over their daughter Charlie (Lennon Wynn). Olivia is upset when her intern Bryce Varley (Zachary Knighton) doesn't show up for work, unaware he's on a beach boardwalk about to kill himself, having gotten a terminal cancer prognosis. Mark and his partner, Demetri Noh (John Cho), are tracking Alda, a woman connected to a terrorist group. They're following her on the LA turnpike as Olivia prepares to begin her surgery, Bryce puts a gun to his head and Nicole makes out with her boyfriend…
And then it happens. At exactly 9 a.m., L.A. time, with no warning whatsoever, every single person on the planet blacks out. Two minutes and thirty-seven seconds later, the world awakens to utter chaos. Millions around the world are dead due to car/plane/bus/train/boat crashes, botched surgeries, drowning, falls and more. Cities are on fire and panic is high as no one knows what the hell happened. NASA thinks it's aliens, the EPA suspects some drugs, the CIA is convinced it's the Chinese (using the theory that country was mostly asleep when it happened and took the least amount of casualties) and religious groups think it's a sign from God.
After recovering from their car crashing during the blackout, Mark and Demetri head to the FBI offices where Assistant Director Stanford Wedeck (Courtney B. Vance) is calling a meeting to try and figure this out. During the meeting, it begins to come out that during the blackout, everyone saw a vision of themselves on April 10th, 2010, exactly six months in the future. Mark saw himself in the FBI office, checking a billboard filled with clues and messages while gun-toting men came looking for him. Mark uses that to convince Wedeck to let him take over an investigation of the blackouts. What Mark doesn't tell him at the time is that he saw himself, a recovering alcoholic, drinking hard.
At the hospital, Olivia does her best with the massive casualties coming in, a bit thrown when one young boy named Dylan (whose mother has died) calls her by name as if he knows her. She's aided by Bryce, who had awoke to aid drowning surfers and while he doesn't say what he saw, it appears to have given him hope for himself. At home, she's fearful of what she saw, confessing to Mark that she saw herself with another man. She's jarred when Dylan's father Lloyd Simcoe (Jack Davenport) arrives and she realizes he's the man she saw herself with. He, however, doesn't recognize her and she's a bit happy with it…unaware that Lloyd did indeed have the same vision but his back was to Olivia the entire time so he honestly doesn't know she's the woman. When brought in, Charlie doesn't recognize Lloyd but does know Noah. Needless to say, things are tense between Olivia and Mark over this.
They're not the only ones wrestling with what they saw. Aaron Stark (Brian F. O'Byrne) is Mark's sponsor, bothered by Mark's admission of drinking. He's also struck by his own vision: that he saw himself in a hut tending to his daughter, a soldier supposedly killed in action. Nicole is haunted as she saw herself being drowned and got the feeling she deserved it. Agent Janis Hawk (Christine Woods) saw herself pregnant which confuses her since, unbeknownst to her colleagues, she's a lesbian. But the most jarring vision is Demetri…because he saw nothing at all, making him wonder if he's dead in six months. It wasn't helped when a sheriff who also said she saw nothing was killed on a case and he received a phone call from a mysterious woman (Shohreh Agldashloo) who said she saw a file indicating he's shot dead on March 10th, 2010. He's naturally jarred by all this, worrying about his future which makes him harder in the field. It's not helped as his fiancée, Zoey Andata (Gabrielle Union) says she saw herself getting married on a beach and Demetri can't bring himself to tell her what he saw.
Right off the bat, the show asks you to accept a lot. It requires a massive suspension of disbelief to accept that so soon after the biggest disaster in history, people can be right back at work. It's also hard to believe that within hours, the FBI can set up the Mosaic website, where people can post what they saw, giving them the chance to paint a picture of what the day will be. However, the show does tackle the key question at its heart. Not just what caused the blackout or why but how people react upon seeing their possible fate. For many, it's mundane, arguing on phones or with family but other see things that truly change their lives one way or another. For example, a low-level drug dealer sees himself driving a fancy car and dressed in expensive clothes and is convinced he's about to become a major player. The fourth episode brings that to life majorly when a young white man (who was on a bus crashing into a lake in the blackout) saw himself as a popular kid…who was now black. Bryce wants to use it as a clue but Olivia refuses to give the vision credence and Bryce snaps she doesn't want to accept it because she'd have to believe her own vision was right. He uses that vision to figure out the kid's condition, Olivia refusing but when the man flatlines in surgery, she tries some medication off Bryce's suggestion and realizes he was right. Of course, neither Olivia or Mark want their visions to come true and try to wrestle with the question of whether the future can truly be changed or not. Fiennes and Walger (each boasting a great American accent) do a great job as the couple wrestling with a difficult question and the two actors carry it well.
The Olivia/Lloyd dynamic is interesting too. A highlight is the Halloween episode when Dylan comes over to Mark and Olivia’s home, which he remembers living in. Coming to pick him up, Lloyd and Mark meet for the first time, neither knowing who the other man is. When Olivia enters, Davenport has a great moment where he looks around and realizes this is the house from his vision and Olivia is the woman in it as Mark also realizes who Lloyd is and poor Olivia is in the middle. It’s a fun thing to play with as Olivia points out to Mark how he shouldn’t be upset over something she hasn’t done yet and claims she won’t. When someone texts to her how Mark was drinking in his flash forward, she’s able to throw that in his face and both actors do a good job wrestling with avoiding these mistakes but things keep pushing them toward that path. During talks, Olivia realizes she and Lloyd could have gone to the same college, which plays more into the ideas of choices.
The question as to what caused the blackouts is the key at the early part of the series as in one episode, Mark must decide whether to let a Nazi go free when he claims to have information on the blackout. This leads to the discovery that in Somalia, in 1991, someone built a mysterious tower that caused a massive worldwide death in crows while people in the area reported blackouts. "We've been wondering if this is going to happen again. We never asked if it's happened already." Adding more fuel is security footage of a baseball game in Detroit where one person is seen awake and walking about. This leads to the introduction of Simon (Dominic Monaghan), Lloyd’s partner at their science college. Lloyd is convinced that an experiment the duo were taking part in involving a super-collider was the cause of the blackout, even going so far as confessing it to the world. Simon, however, in unconvinced and indeed, when held prisoner by men wanting to know how the experiment worked, the leader of the gang laughs at Lloyd thinking he caused the blackout, that all he did was “enhance the effect.” Olivia also runs into a man named Gabriel (James Callis), who appears to have been experimented on by the mysterious organization behind the blackouts, which has left him mentally disturbed thanks to his visions of various futures. A telling remark he makes is how Olivia and Mark being together “is wrong” because in every future he saw, Olivia and Lloyd are together. This is a bit of a jar to the storyline as linking this massive conspiracy to the idea of one couple being together or not is a bit much to accept.
Cho does a great job as Demetri, constantly worrying whether or not his time is running out and often going way too far in the job, thinking he has nothing to lose. He and Union are good together, especially when he comes clean to her about his lack of a vision but she insists it’s wrong because she saw what she thinks is their wedding day. However, attending a colleague’s memorial service, she learns that in the Korean culture, white is a color of mourning and that, coupled with the sight of Demetri’s mother (who never approved of her as a wife) at the ceremony, makes her realize she was seeing Demetri’s funeral. The tension over his fate is pulled throughout the season, pushing both him and Mark to some dramatic stuff and provides the show with its best running subplot.
Vance is good as the FBI chief, commanding but also having some nice humor. A funny bit is the revelation his flash forward was himself on a toilet reading the paper. He was also on the toilet when the blackout happened and when he came to, he saw another agent lying face down in the urinal and had the uncomfortable task of giving him CPR. However, he also shows pain when Mark reveals he was drunk in his vision, making Wedeck fearful of trusting him. Meanwhile, Wedeck's wife (Gina Torres) saw herself caring for a young boy who called her "mommy." At a funeral for FBI agents, she saw the boy in attendance, the son of one of the late agents, making her wonder how they come to know each other more. It’s a promising idea but the show pretty much drops it with no follow-up. The series touches on the political stuff, as a trip to Washington has the question raised as to why one FBI field office should be handling the Mosaic investigation and Peter Coyote as the President trying to handle a female senator who claims she’ll be President in her Flash Forward…despite the fact Coyote’s flash indicated he was still in charge.
Bryce’s plotline is good as he saw himself alive and meeting a beautiful Japanese girl, realizing he’ll be fine and enjoys his new lease on life. A terrific episode is him going to Japan to try to find the girl as we also see her, Keiko (Yuko Takeuchi), a woman who wants more than the typical Japanese female’s life and takes her vision as a sign. They miss each other in Japan and in a delightful twist, we see Keiko’s vision of their meeting that reveals they actually were in a Japanese restaurant in L.A. She soon travels there and the actress is fun showing her trying to handle American life while searching for this soul mate…unaware that Bryce is now interested in Nicole. For her part, List does a good job with Nicole although the plotline of her “drowning” isn’t handled that well although her temptation by a man (Gil Bellows) who’s turned into an evangelist after his brush with death and fate has promise.
Woods gets some great material as Janis, showing first the problems of a woman forced to hide her sexuality in order to succeed at her job. She’s at first unsure of her vision of having a child but after being wounded in a shoot-out, decides she wants it after all. This leads to one of the real low points of the series, the idea of her getting Dimitri to be the father and not through donating at a bank, either. But the character does improve with a great twist at mid-season that changes the game big-time. Another face arriving at that point is Marshall Vogel (Michael Ealy), a CIA agent who seems to know more about the blackouts than he’s letting on to the others and has a rather interesting connection to Janis. O’Bryne’s plotline involving his daughter has some good promise but devolves a bit into a wild conspiracy involving a military contractor that never comes to a real closure.
The show does tackle some big ideas of fate vs. free will but doesn’t really do that much to answer them. The initial promise of “what would you do if you knew your future?” is never fully realized as it delves much more into the investigation of the blackout. The exception is the series’ best episode, “The Gift,” in which the FBI investigates a club of people who, having seen nothing in their visions, figure they’ll do whatever they want, beating on each other, playing Russian Roulette and more, without consequence. It builds up to the powerful moment where an agent (Lee Thompson Young) goes to the most extreme measure possible to prove the future isn’t written in stone. There’s an intriguing idea of people who seemed to have cheated death suddenly being killed off but it isn’t explored in depth. Indeed, that’s the key problem of the show and what keeps it from being truly amazing as it might have been better to focus episodes more on the idea of wrestling with fate and people trying to either change what they saw or let it come true. The idea of morality/religion and how it fares is something too and it might have been fun to show more of the international effects of the blackout (especially in places like China where the death toll wasn’t as high). Yes, focusing on the cause was important but I think a lot of viewers would have liked the concept more than the causes and layering in too much of a mystery may have been too much to handle at once.
However you can argue the story, the show’s production values are top-notch. In both the pilot and flashbacks throughout the series, the after-effects of the blackout are chillingly well-done as we see buses, helicopters and more crashing into buildings, fires breaking out and the always amazing sight of dozens of people, as one, falling unconscious. The actual “flashes” are good too, off-kilter with nice angles, each with their own different shading and perspective for each person, which makes them stand out more. The pacing is pretty good for the most part, especially as things pick up in the second half of the season and we get some great revelations and twists. The acting seems to improve too, with Monaghan in particular stealing every scene he’s in as an arrogant know-it-all who loves showing off his knowledge…which makes the times he gets humbled all the better.
For all it gets right in action, writing and acting, the series still feels wanting at the end. The concept is fantastic but there’s just not enough done with it. The simple idea of the world recovering from the massive blackout would have given plenty of stories and adding people seeing their futures had so much potential too. But after offering up that, the series gets bogged down too much in the mystery of the blackout’s cause and even trying to link it to some family connections. The producers had discussed having a full five-year plan for the show but maybe they should have paid more attention to making the first season work right, they were so focused on the end-game that they overlooked how to set it up well. It does pick up and the finale offers a major cliffhanger that has potential to continue things but also brings you right back where the show started, showing the limitations. It’s a shame as the series had all the right ingredients for a fantastic sci-fi drama but could never mix them the right way. Still, you have to admire the attempt and watching the series in full like this does help you appreciate a flash of what could have been something great.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10.0
Widescreen 1.78:1, enhanced for 16X9 sets. Given the visual power of the series, with its scenes of action and destruction, the show needs a great picture and this set delivers that well. The “flashes” actually look better here than on regular TV, the clarity of the show always great and enhances a series that, if nothing else, looked pretty damn good.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10.0
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound with subtitles in English, French and Spanish. The audio is clear, nothing too spectacular but are able to get things through with no need to adjust the volume that much. Plus, the subtitles can help with the super-science stuff and the accents of some of the actors.
Rating: 8.0 out of 10.0
The series comes in five discs within a nice plastic snap-case holder that opens up to show a photo of the cast with episode guides to each disc. The discs themselves have nice menus with sound bites from the episodes’ most chilling parts.
Creating Catastrophe: The Effects of a Global Blackout (7:23) focuses on the making of the pilot episode and how it shows the massive destruction of the blackout. David Goyer talks of them shutting down six lanes of traffic, including the 110 Freeway, to shoot the sequence of Mark and Demetri in a massive car crash when the blackout hits. One of the assistants shows how he used toy cars at home to plan things out to figure how cars would be crashing into one another. They focus on how the live-action stuff was mixed with a CGI of a burning Los Angeles cityscape in a nice effect. One guy takes pride in showing off the realistic makeup for crash victims and how he got folks to look properly mangled. It’s short but fun to see how this highlight of the opening episode came off.
Architects of Destiny (20:03) begins with the cast on set on the day of the show’s premiere, excited at seeing it come off and how people will react. Robert Sawyer, who wrote the book the show is based on, discusses things with executive producer Jessica Borsizcky, who was intrigued by his idea of how “destiny determines character.” In the novel, the flashes showed people twenty years in the future but they felt six motnhs was better for the series as it gave them an end point for the season. They discuss the casting of things including Monoghan’s part, with how he took part in the pilot although he wasn’t committed to the series quite yet. The actors talk about how they’re kept in the dark but enjoy watching how things unfold with a look at them all at Comic Con promoting the show. Woods discusses the twists in Janice’s plotline and the making of “The Gift” episode that everyone seems to agree was the show’s best outing. They go more into making the finale and how they had to link it to what had been shown already and planed out. The last moments have the cast talking of the show’s meaning of “free will vs. destiny” and how they feel about the question. It’s a good look if a bit short and might have been nice to hear them talk of the conflicts with the network and Goyer leaving the series. Also, they act like the cancellation hadn’t happened, keep acting like there’s another season coming so that throws you a bit.
Flash Forward On Set are a set of vignettes, running about ten minutes total, that look at shooting of several scenes. There’s the bit at the Blue Hand Club and Vance’s funny stuff in the bathroom along with an emergency operation and car crash. The best is a look at a scene taking place during the blackout and the trick getting everyone in the shot to go down at the exact same time to sell it. Not bad showing the complexities of the show.
Meet Yuko (5:43) is a feature on the actress Yuko Takeuchi on her first day shooting of the show. They touch on how she’s a big star in Japan but this was her first American role and she was a bit nervous coming to a foreign land, speaking through translators and getting used to things. It’s fun as the actress comes off quite lively and enjoying the experience, saying she hopes that, like her character, “I hope I can change my world.”
Kangaroo? is a minute-and-a-half bit looking at the animal that bounces around in the series with the actors acknowledging they have no clue what it means and the producers just saying it’s best left a mystery
Interviews from the Mosaic Site are four bits from the ABC site that have people talking about their visions. One is pretty obvious, a guy talking about seeing himself with a beautiful girl, saying he could never get someone like that in real life…at which point, the girl he described walks right behind him with a smile. A woman in London acts like this is a vast conspiracy to control people. Another woman says she saw herself planning a wedding but her boyfriend shows up to snap at her and the reporter and demand the girl follow him. Just as they go, the woman leans to the camera to whisper “don’t worry, he’s not the one I’m marrying.” The best is an artist in Japan who talks of seeing himself selling artwork but unable to do so since the blackout, complaining over how he marred a picture when it hit. The reporter suggests trying to sell that piece and brings up the great point of how “maybe the vision is trying to change you, not the other way around.” Fun bits that show how looking at the broad picture of the world might have served the series better.
There are twelve deleted scenes, totaling about twenty minutes, most obviously filler but some nice stuff. There’s one on motives for kidnapping Lloyd from terrorists trying to recreate the blackout for destruction to bookies wanting to know the future (with the fun tidbit that lotteries were done away with for fear someone knew winning numbers). A great flashback has Mark and Olivia naming baby Charlie and we get a fun scene of Torres and Vance that makes you wish they’d done more with Wedeck’s wife. A big scene has Lloyd talking to Olivia about the future, point blank asking if she ever felt as good with Mark as she did in her vision with Lloyd. There’s also a nice one of Nicole talking to Olivia about her feelings for Bryce with Olivia working on her own romantic issues.
“A Look Ahead” and “Could” are basically the previews ABC set up for the mid-season break the show had, highlighting stuff from the second half of the season. Also a three-minute blooper reel.
So for those hoping, no closure or explanation of what the end of the series might have been (although rumors the producers may do a comic book series to continue things) so you're left up in the air for answers or resolutions.
Rating: 8.0 out of 10.0
The 411: In the end, Flashforward may have been just too daring for its own good. It's like the producers were so tied into their five-year plan, they didn't see the flaws in getting the first year done right and the show suffered with too much of the mystery behind the blackouts and not enough on the drama of the consequences of knowing your future. The cast is top-notch and the writing good with some great twists and turns but the show still feels you wanting and not just from the cliffhanger ending. The extras are great showing what went into making a complicated show like this but not as in-depth as you'd hope. In the end, Flashforwardwas a flawed experiment, a series that had a great concept but didn't deliever fully on it although you have to admire the attempt and how it went out on screens.