'FlashForward' review: A dose of serial sci-fi minus the metaphysics

flashforward_cast_290.jpgFor a quarter of its Thursday-night premiere, ABC's "FlashForward" (based on Robert J. Sawyer's 2000 novel) plays a lot like "Lost." That's no surprise; with "Lost" entering its final season in January, the network needs a replacement serialized ensemble drama that flirts with sci-fi.

So you're forgiven for feeling like you flashed back with the abrupt title card; the opening scenes of confusion and blood and wreckage; the disorientation carefully calibrated to echo that of the characters'. Heck, it's even got a "Lost" alum in a prominent role.

It's only when FBI agent Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes) surveys a burning Los Angeles that the show's footing is found. This is a global event, and the stakes are higher than just the fate of a few people stuck in what seems like the world's weirdest science experiment.

Also, there's a kangaroo.

Turns out everyone in the world blacked out for two minutes and 17 seconds and during that time, had a vision of what they were doing six months later. That's a lot of stories to cover, so the premiere (and, presumably, the series) focuses on Benford and his personal and professional lives.

Benford's wife Olivia (Sonya Walger, Penny on "Lost") is a hyper-competent surgeon. His partner Demetri Noh (a too-subdued John Cho) is about to get married, code second only to "two days from retirement" that he best watch his back. The FBI chief (Courtney B. Vance) is so straight-arrow he has a vision of sports news and doesn't immediately call his bookie.

The premise is intriguing. How do you try and explore such an event? Who do you call, scientists or priests or soldiers? Can the future be changed? Irritatingly, that last question is brought up, but when two characters have a chance to try, they don't, even though it'd be as simple as marking a piece of paper. Of course, that would give away one of the show's central questions, and if "FlashForward" hews so closely to the "Lost" mold, we won't be getting answers anytime soon.

In fact, by the end of the first episode, we're looking at more a straightforward mystery -- what happened, and who's responsible? -- than a metaphysical examination of predestination. Throw us an episode or two of people exploring their lives as they hurtle toward those two minutes and 17 seconds, and we'll be more inclined to pay attention to the whodunit.

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