Joseph Fiennes, FlashForward
Credit: Ron Tom/ABC

Conceived as a puzzle with emotional depth, and hyped as ”the new Lost,” FlashForward certainly has a lot to live up to. A serialized show with a gimmick — everyone in the world blacks out for 2 minutes, 17 seconds, and almost all experience ”flashforward” visions of April 29, 2010 — it bucks the trend in current network thinking about hour-long dramas, and could have easily become irritating or confusing quickly.

Instead, FF is fascinating. Every TV show needs a hero, and so even though the series’ premise operates on a global scale, it zeroes in most closely on Joseph Fiennes’ FBI agent Mark Benford, a recovering alcoholic whose hazy flash-forward had him seeing a big board cluttered with clues about the blackout. He leads the investigation while also coping with more emotional elements: His wife, Olivia (Lost‘s Sonya Walger), saw a future vision of herself with another man, which makes Mark jealous, and he doesn’t want anyone to know that during his flashforward, he was royally drunk, which makes him ashamed.

The best strategy employed by FF co-creators Brannon Braga and David S. Goyer is that they don’t test our patience in teasing out info — if anything, they dump new pieces of the puzzle into our heads every week. Mark’s partner Demetri (John Cho) decided that his no-vision vision means he’s dead — murdered — by next April. Mark said, ”We can solve your murder before it happens.” But can they, really? Doesn’t that mess with the space-time continuum? (Calling Doc Jensen — stat!) We’ve also learned that Olivia’s future love, Lloyd Simcoe (Jack Davenport), is in league with the mysterious Simon (another Lost alum, Dominic Monaghan) for what the latter called ”the single greatest disaster in human history.” This is presumably not a reference to the fact that in FlashForwardland, the President of the United States turns out to be Ken Burns’ go-to guy for godlike narration, Peter Coyote.

FF isn’t perfect. Much thought has been given to plot and character, but not enough to the visuals: This is one of the most drablooking of intelligent shows. Thematically, FF makes major philosophical points — stuff about living in the moment, etc. — but instead of dramatizing them, it often just has its characters speak them. Then there’s the bigger picture: Are we really supposed to believe that the biggest investigation into the blackout is being conducted by Mark’s tossed-up ”Mosaic Collective” website? Wouldn’t law enforcement worldwide be in touch with our FBI team, sharing intel?

These questions, however, only emphasize how engaging FF can be. The show combines sci-fi-ish conspiracy suspense with excellent prime-time-soap drama. And I like the fact that, post-blackout, people don’t Google each other; they say, ”I Mosaic’d you.” A good sense of humor humanizes this grand puzzle. B+

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