Wednesday, November 4, 2009

'V' and 'FlashForward:' Can These High-Concept Shows Go the Distance?

I watched the premiere of V last night on ABC, you know, that new drama about the aliens "visiting" Earth as their ginormous spacecraft hover over the world's biggest cities.

The pilot episode was intriguing, but I think I’m a tad biased because I'm a fan of Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet from Lost) who plays single mom FBI agent Erica Evans on V and has been convinced that the "visitors" want to annihilate humankind. She’s not as enthralled by the attractive, smooth talking aliens as, say Scott Wolf (Bailey from Party of Five) who’s been flirting with the alien's leader, Anna, and, as ambitious TV news guy Chad Decker, is benefitting from being the one journalist on Earth to whom Anna will grant exclusive interviews . . . that is if he agrees not to ask any questions that cast the aliens in an unflattering light.

So there’s a battle coming: The skeptics, like Erica Evans, plan to take on the aliens and subvert them because they believe there's at least one (if not more) sleeper terrorist cell of aliens -- who look human on the outside -- that has been on Earth for some time and whose members are bent on doing evil things. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Earthlings appear to be celebritizing the self-professed peace loving aliens -- who have the power to miraculously heal the sick -- as they entice young people into joining “ambassador” programs and training them aboard their ships. People are selling, "I Love Vs" T-shirts and bowing down reverently in the presence of the "visitors'" ships.

That’s all obviously good potentially dramatic material. On paper. But can the writers maintain the momentum and promise of the pilot, keep things fresh and not get bogged down with minutia and subterfuge too quickly?

Plus, there’s the odd decision made by ABC execs to air four episodes and then go on hiatus until 2010 after the winter Olympics. If V succeeeds in getting traction and ratings, all that will grind to a halt. If it’s stinking up the joint, will ABC just pull the plug? Why not just hold the entire series until 2010 so they could air the 13-episode run in consecutive weeks? This puzzles me.

Anyway, here’s a snippet from last night’s premiere. The scene features Wolf’s character prepping for an interview with chief alien Anna:

Over on ABC’s other cataclysmic/conspiratorial new show FlashForward – where (virtually) everyone on Earth blacked out for nearly three minutes and saw a glimpse of their lives six months into the future – six episodes have aired. As with V, I liked the pilot, but feel as though the show has lost some steam since then, gone creatively astray a bit what with tangents about the crows, a Nazi prisoner and bizarre congressional hearings.

What keeps me tuning in to FlashForward -- there've been a few times when I wanted to just delete an episode, unwatched, from my DVR -- is that I like the main characters and am eager to find out how they get from where they are now to where they are in the flashforwards. (Once that happens, I hope the writers have a logical plan as to what'll they'll do then. Hopefully not another global blackout.)

For example, Sonya Walger (Penelope from Lost) plays Dr. Olivia Benford who’s married to FBI agent Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes from Shakespeare in Love). In Olivia’s flashforward, she finds herself living in her same house but her daughter, as well as with another man she'd never met and his son Dylan. After they experienced the flashforwards, Dylan became Olivia’s patient and he remembered being in her house and seeing Olivia's daughter during his flashforward. FBI agent Mark is holed up in his office in his flashforward, back on the bottle (his drinking had caused a previous marital separation), and he’s investigating the cause of the blackout when he’s attacked by masked gunmen. Seeing how Olivia and Mark get from point A to point B is what has kept me watching through the nonsense about the crows and the inane power politics of Washington, D.C.

I’m also interested in the storyline for FBI agent Demetri Noh (John Cho), who doesn’t have a flashforward and assumes that that means he’ll be dead before April 29, 2010, the date everyone saw during their blackout. When Demetri posted his experience on a web site where others have posted the details of their flashforwards, he received a call from a woman who said she knows he'll be murdered.

However, as much as I was a fan of Dominic Monaghan when he was the self-sacrificing chap named Charlie on Lost, I can’t stand what I’ve seen of him in FlashForward, but then again, I’m not supposed to. Don’t like his whole sinister this-is-one-big-science-experiment-gone-wrong storyline. Don’t really care either.

The video below is of the man and his son Dylan at Olivia and Mark’s house on Halloween night; both the son and the father realized that this was where their flashforward took place:

While lots of folks like to knock Lost because it’s become so complicated in recent years, it wasn’t that way at first. It was a character drama where a group of strangers crash-landed on an island and were presented with constant, life-threatening situations. The storyline slowly unfolded by explaining the characters and their backstories so viewers felt they understood their present actions and what was motivating them. By the time the show got to the level of Easter eggs and requiring a PhD in Lost-ology in order to understand the episode threads, viewers had already bonded with the characters. Which is why I think it’s important that, while they advance the plot forward (which some viewers complained Lost didn’t do very well in its initial seasons), the V and FlashForward writers need to make sure that they make us care about what happens to the characters in their shows. Otherwise if they waste time with extraneous distractions, they could wind up being high-concept, high-profile bombs on their hands.


Cooley Horner said...

I haven't checked out V yet, and while I'm optimistic, it does seem like it would be better suited as a miniseries. Guess I'll have to check it out soon!

I want to get into Flash Forward, and I plan to watch it when things slow down a bit, but honestly I'm a bit repelled because of Sonya Walger. I'm apparently one of four people on this planet who can't stand Desmond and Penelope on LOST, so that role has kind of tainted the actress in my eyes. Still I will give her a chance!

amy said...

From Vienna:

Hope my kids taped V, but most likely they did not. I loved the original series, so I expect to like this one; plus I also love Juliet.

I read the book Flash Forward so am a bit biased toward the series, but also I feel like I know where it's going; not sure if it's good that I read the book or bad...I suppose time will tell.

I agree with you that pulling the plug on V is a bad idea; it's funny because they learned with Lost to wait and run the season consecutively (after the disastorous breaks of the second season); you'd think they'd apply the same experiential knowledge to V. Of course, that supposes that the same person is in charge, and I think that tv network personnel are fired every other week, so there really is no experience when it comes to programming.

Looking forward to being back in the states and catching up on shows, though my kids probably erased most of them to make room for more episodes of Scrubs and The Simpsons, because you can't watch enough of Zach Braff and Bart instead of doing homework.

rakeback said...

Flash Forward has taken some very interesting turns lately, but as the suicide of the FBI agent proved, there is a paradox in people seeing their future. If they can kill themselves they alter what happens to everyone else seen in their flash forward and thus change the future. The show reminds me of Back To The Future.