Television

Days of future past: Fate figures heavily into the chilling mystery of 'FlashForward'

Julie Hinds
Detroit Free Press (MCT)

DETROIT — Growing up in Ann Arbor, Mich., David S. Goyer once made a prediction that turned out to be a pretty accurate flash-forward.

"I remember telling my mother ... that I was going to go to Hollywood one day and write a Batman movie," he says. "And it happened."

As film buffs know, Goyer has an impressive list of credits as a writer, director and producer. And, yes, he co-wrote the screenplay for "Batman Begins" and co-wrote the story for its acclaimed sequel, "The Dark Knight." But his latest project could be one of his most intriguing yet.

"FlashForward" is a new ABC drama with a creepy-cool premise. In the first episode, which aired late last month, the world's population blacks out at the same time for 2 minutes and 17 seconds. During this weird simultaneous event, people everywhere apparently see a glimpse of themselves several months into the future — on April 29, 2010, to be specific.

The debut scored well in the ratings, drawing more than 12 million viewers. The buzz is the series could become the next big enigma-wrapped-in-a-riddle hit for ABC, which kicks off the final season of "Lost" early next year.

Although "FlashForward" definitely is not a "Lost" spin-off, it shares certain qualities with that addictively puzzling island saga: a catchy concept, compelling mysteries and a talented group of actors.

Joseph Fiennes heads the ensemble as FBI agent Mark Benford, who's assigned to figure out what's going on — after he glimpses himself doing the same task in the future. His doctor wife is played by Sonya Walger, best known as Penny on "Lost." An even bigger "Lost" star, Dominic Monaghan (troubled, heroic Charlie) also is in the cast.

Goyer, who co-created the series (it's based on a 1999 novel) and is an executive producer, sounds comfortable being compared to "Lost."

"We're on the same network. It's a show that I love, and I happened to be friends with Damon (Lindelof, co-creator of 'Lost')," he says during a phone interview from Los Angeles. "If people think of them as brother shows or cousin shows, that's fine with me. I did throw in an Easter egg, an Oceanic Airlines billboard, into the pilot, just as something that I thought would be fun."

There's another thing the two series have in common. Remember a few years ago when "Lost" revealed some University of Michigan doctoral candidates were key players in the Dharma Initiative? Now "FlashForward" has a story link to the Motor City.

During the first episode, an FBI agent found grainy footage from a security camera at a baseball stadium in Detroit that showed collapsed people in the stands at the time of the blackout — except for a single unidentified person still up and walking.

"Who is that and why are they awake?" the agent asked.

According to Goyer, he chose Detroit as the stadium locale because he grew up in the area and went to many Tigers games as a kid. He talks fondly about going to the city nearly every weekend in high school. At one point, the alum of Ann Arbor's Huron High — who went on to study film at the University of Southern California — intended to go to Michigan State University and become a Detroit homicide cop.

Detroit will continue to be part of the story in some future episodes, according to Goyer, who says the series eventually will flash back "to that moment from the perspective of the person in the stands, to see just what he or she was doing there."

Why weren't the Tigers mentioned? "In the script, it originally said at a Tigers game in Detroit, but they wouldn't give us permission. ... So sadly, I just had to say this was at a baseball game in Detroit and let people infer what they would out of it," he says.

The stadium is something they computer-generated, he explains (a fictional name was mentioned in the second episode). "I would love to give a shout-out to whoever's in charge of the Tigers," he adds. "I'd love to make it specific and talk about the Tigers."

According to a Tigers spokesman, requests for national use of a team's name and logo would have to go through Major League Baseball.

The writing is what's really impressive about "FlashForward," says Courtney B. Vance, who's originally from Detroit and plays the director of the FBI's L.A. field office.

"This is one of the finest pilots on the page that I've ever read," says Vance, formerly of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." "What's so unique about it is the execution from the page to the stage has been flawless. ... What we're doing in front of the camera is being totally supported behind the camera and above the camera, from the network and the studio. It's one of those situations that happens rarely."

Fans already are scouring the show's scenes for meaning. "They're posting screen grabs of all sorts of things and trying to divine meaning out of everything from color scheme to the license plate numbers of the characters' cars," says Goyer.

But you don't need a fan blog to know the theme of fate is going to be important. "That's been something that's been resonant in most of the things I've worked on, certainly in the 'Blade' movies, 'Batman Begins,' 'The Dark Knight,' 'Dark City,'" says Goyer, reeling off past projects. "All of those things deal with the concept of fate. Are these people predestined? Was Bruce Wayne ... was his fate written the night his parents were murdered?"

The producers seem determined their fate won't be wearing out the patience of viewers. They have said they will reach the flash-forward date, April 29, 2010, by the season's end. They have put much thought into the road map of the journey they're taking. (Entertainment Weekly reported they fueled a network bidding war over the script by working out five seasons of story arcs.)

Goyer promises that "by the end of the first season, virtually every single mystery that we've put on the table will be solved," with the exception of what actually caused the blackouts. "That's one that we're going to reserve for hopefully a couple seasons down the line," he says.

Building a loyal following in the fragmented, channel-surfing landscape of television isn't easy. But some local viewers like what they have seen of "FlashForward."

"I'd watch again," says Brian Kramer, 37, an eBay consultant for Big Ben's Comix in Allen Park, Mich., who saw most of the first episode and is a Goyer fan. "He's the kind of guy who likes to get you at the end."

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