In a move that should shock no one, ABC has canceled FlashForward. After coming into the season with an impressive looking pilot and the most buzz for a new drama series, it all fell apart for ABC and the series pretty quickly.
So yet another Lost clone has fallen. What, if anything, did we learn from this failure?The most important thing we can take away from the failure of FlashForward is something that we basically already know: No one will ever duplicate Lost, especially if they continue to focus on one part of the revolutionary series’ formula and not the other. It has been said over and over, but the reason people love Lost is because of the characters. As much as we all want to know exactly what the Smoke Monster is or what the glowing yellow light means, we’ve kept coming back over the years because we care about Hurley. We’ve kept coming back over the years because we love Sawyer’s nicknames. We want to see Jin and Sun reunite. Even if we sometimes think the writers are full of it when they hide behind that response when people ask about the lack of answers, for the most part it’s believable.
Instead, FlashForward comes in a long line of post-Lost series that have forgotten all about the characters and worried solely about the big, overarching mythology. That leaves the characters existing solely as vessels for dialogue — an on FF bad dialogue at that — about rigid plot points that makes watching the series boring. Fans complain about the answer downloads on Lost, but answers come so dryly and stupidly on series like FlashForward that it makes even the most fumbled approach on the island drama seem eloquent. And it seems like the answers don’t work as well when the characters are there to feel the effects, that’s fairly basic storytelling logic.
From a network perspective, I get the need to copy the Lost formula, but because of the external factors at play — lower ratings, surely cheaper budgets — are combining with generally poor writing to create a mishmash of big ideas with absolutely no character shading to prop them up. It is failures like FlashForward and the also now-canceled Heroes that will lead to people to say that serialized dramas are dead on broadcast television, and I’ve said before that is not really the case. What is the case, however, is that people will only continue to talk about things in that way as long as poorly written serialized dramas continue to be greenlit.
The sad thing is that it seems like everyone knows that most of the Lost clones have been poorly written on a character level and if no one can relate to the characters, they are not going to watch. It’s hard to completely see if the writing is going to be horrible when greenlighting a pilot, which means even if the broadcast networks know during pilot season that serialized dramas need good characters, it cannot be guaranteed that specific writers will make sure that happens after the pilot. FlashForward is a damn good example of that, as the pilot was surely one of the best of the post-Lost scripts and looked to be primed with all the right ideas — fate, free will — and a nice mix of interesting characters. Therefore, I’m honestly not exactly sure if we did learn anything new about FlashForward‘s failure, but I’m also not sure if there’s anything else anyone can do. This means that as an audience, we’re going to get more of these messes, which will make the successes like Lost — “like” Lost because again, there won’t be anything exactly like it — that much more sweet.