Based oh-so-loosely on the Robert J. Sawyer book of the same name, and perhaps the most ambitious television show to launch this fall, ABC's FlashForward is a drama with a science fiction edge. In the novel, the main story follows scientists at CERN in Switzerland as they try to discover why exactly an experiment of theirs caused everyone in the world to blackout and gave them an approximately two minute look at their lives two decades down the line, and to deal with the ramifications of said experiment. The TV series instead focuses on FBI agents in Los Angeles as they try to puzzle together why exactly everyone in the world got an approximately two minute look at their lives several months into their future.
The ramifications of giving everyone a look at their near future versus their distant future are, of course, massive. The new flashforward event takes place on April 29, 2010, or, right around the date of the season finale if the show makes it that long (for those wondering, April 29 is in fact a Thursday and the show airs on Thursdays). Thus, it appears as though the producers are going to work their way to the point seen in the flashforwards over the course of the season, finally arriving there on, or just about on, the season finale. The change of dates of the flashforward may give the story a smaller feel than the it had in the novel, but it certainly works far better (at least in the first season) in terms of story arcs.
Additionally, moving the story from Switzerland and scientists to Los Angeles and FBI agents adds the ability for the writers to easily include far more action, and perchance an easier time filming on location. This change, as with the change in the date seen in the future, seems carefully calculated to increase the show's televisual appeal to an American audience. Whether audiences are interested however is still to be seen. ABC has launched several high-concept shows over the past few seasons, but has only had middling success with them.
This particular high-concept sci-fi action thriller stars Joseph Fiennes as FBI agent Mark Benford and John Cho as his partner Demetri Noh. They are tasked with figuring out what exactly caused the event as Benford, during the event, saw himself working on what caused the event. Circular logic to be sure, but if the characters the show follows aren't uncovering the reasons for what took place there seems little reason for us to care in any way about them. They do have their own families issues to deal with as well, so the show isn't exclusively set on the investigation if that does, hopefully, take a position of primacy in the series. The cast also includes Jack Davenport, Dominic Monaghan, Sonya Walger, and Courtney B. Vance among others. It's certainly a good cast, and all the actors seem to bring their own personal set of fans to the table.
As for the story itself, the premiere is mainly just setting up all the events that will unfold over the course of the season. As such, a lot of potentially interesting questions in a lot of different storylines are posed, virtually all of them having to do with how a character gets from their present situation to where they will apparently be on April 29, 2010. The trick will be for the series to not only make the answers to those questions interesting, but to, at the same time, make the mystery of the event and reasons for it compelling – to simply thrown in a nod to a Large Hadron Collider experiment at CERN taking place, which works for the novel because it follows those characters, will be supremely disappointing.
The concept behind the show is a fascinating one and even switching the characters and location from the novel is not necessarily a bad move on the producers' (which include David S. Goyer and Brannon Braga) part. Everything in the premiere is constructed quite well and the performances by the leads are good. Whether or not the show works in the long term however is going to be solely dependent on the producers' abilities to create an interesting puzzle, give the audience pieces to it on a regular basis, and not cause everyone's head to explode due to the logic gaps so often found in stories about time travel.
FlashForward premieres Thursday September 24 at 8pm on ABC.