The two big science fiction television shows for this season have had their premieres and have two hours under their belts. With a few exceptions, TV is not kind to science fiction so let’s put Flashforward and Stargate Universe into the ring and let them fight it out for supremacy (in this case meaning which will last the longest).
In this corner we have ABC’s new entry: Flashforward.
The Premise: – What happens when humanity experiences 2 minutes and 17 seconds of unconsciousness where everyone also sees a glimpse of themselves in the future?
The Story – Flashforward is loosely based on Robert J.Sawyer’s novel of the same name. The TV show has taken the basic premise and grafted a mystery/conspiracy storyline on top. They’ve also slowly added the fate vs. free will theme from the book (illustrated by John Cho’s character knowing he is murdered at some point, can he stop it from happening?) The more interesting take here is the apparent conspiracy behind the time stoppage. This, plus the ‘flashes’ has lead to the inevitable LOST comparisons (it’s not that good yet, but LOST wasn’t LOST right off either. So far I’m really intrigued by Flashforward. I’m definitely looking forward to where they go with the story. Maybe they’ll answer why the Suspect Zero would be a Tigers game to begin with?
The Characters – This is probably the weakest part of Flashforward. There isn’t one character that I really like or care all that much about. In that respect, the plot is more interesting with the characters being a means to push it forward. There’s certainly time to improve the characters and it would be nice if one or more would actually change for good because of what they saw.
The Execution – I have to give high marks to the producers for how Flashforward looks. The disaster scenes look pretty good for a TV budget and the flash forwards have a nice feel to them. I can’t say I’m impressed with the music as I can’t remember any of it. Flashforward definitely looks like a professionally produced piece of television.
The Prognosis – Flashforward has garnered some decent ratings for its two showings. Of course it has a very nice time slot to work with. Add in some character work and a (hopefully) interesting story for the flash and this could stick around. Which is actually a problem. There’s a built in stop, set at April 29th, 2010, which is the future point shown during the flash forward. After that, then what? Will the conspiracy still be in hiding? Will they (the creators) have another flash and start all over again? I know what happens in the book but I’m not sure that translate well into a TV show that needs to have an ending in sight (LOST anyone?). This seems like a better proposition for a mini-series or a limited run series (13 episodes) rather than an open ended series, but I see it sticking around for a bit.
In the other corner we have: Stargate Universe, the latest in the Stargate franchise, from SyFy.
The Premise – A group of humans are stranded on the Ancient starship, Destiny, as it traverses the universe.
The Story – The story is pretty much the premise, repeated, but with attempts to try and find a way home. Very Voyager-ish, only light-years better than that show. This is what I really want to see in a science fiction TV show: big @$$ spaceships (I hope we get some battles), exploration of new worlds, ancient technology and a universe that feels lived in. Universe has a bit of an Alastair Reynolds feel to it for me, which is probably why I liked it right off, which I can’t say for the other Stargate TV endeavors. The tone and look is definitely a big change from the previous two shows which probably explains why some fans of the earlier series don’t like Universe. Since I’m not a huge fan of Stargate overall, maybe I’m more predisposed to take Universe at face value instead of comparing it to the others. In any case, I’m very interested in where the creators and writers take the show and I hope we see a very diverse range of settings for the characters to explore.
The Characters – As with Flashforward the characters get short shrift in the pilot. There were too many characters and too much plot to expound for us to get a real feel for any of them, other than the stereotypical roles they play: the arrogant scientist, the geek guy who may be Wesley re-incarnated, the gung ho military guy with behavior problems, the medic who is in over her head, and a bunch of other people we don’t really get to know well. If there’s a problem area for me about Universe it’s the sheer number of characters they are working with. How do you know that’s a problem? When Lou Diamond Philips rates about 2 minutes of screen time in the pilot.
The Execution – Universe also looks pretty good. I love the design of the Destiny and the fact that it is basically falling apart was a very nice touch and adds a lot of interest to the story. The quick space battle at the beginning was done well with some nice visuals and I like the ‘documentary’ style shooting. I know people have complained about that but I don’t have any issues with the ‘shaky-cam’ approach and in fact think it serves to differentiate Universe from the other two series at a glance. As with Flashforward, the music hasn’t made any impression on me.
The Prognosis – Universe premiered to good ratings for a cable show. The question is, can Universe pull in enough new viewers to offset those Stargate fans who aren’t going to stick around.
The Verdict – This is a tough one. Flashforward has to pull in decent ratings to stay on network television and so far it’s doing that. Unfortunately I can’t see the story supporting much more than a season or so. Universe doesn’t have to pull in the same ratings to stay on the air, but it has the obstacle of angry fans to overcome and the added pressure to try and gain new viewers. It has an open ended story that can support a multi-season run. But since I have to make a verdict, I’m going to say that Universe will last longer than Flashforward. That’s not to say that Flashforward is ‘worse’, I’m just taking into account the harshness of the network environment and pressure to keep up ratings. LOST has been losing ratings as the story becomes more complex which I’m assuming Flashforward‘s will do. Unfortunately, Flashforward doesn’t have LOST‘s ratings headstart, so I’m picking it to be canceled first.