Watching television used to be so simple. You got three, maybe four channels from which to choose. Then there were the shows themselves. Each episode could stand alone. There were none of the these long story arcs where you would be lost if you missed an episode or so.
I completely understand the logic behind long story arcs. You get your audience hooked, then they want to see what happens next. The idea of a cliff hanger is not new, by any means. However, these can have negative effects, too. If a view misses too many shows, they may give up on it. If they come to a show late in the game, they may not want to get started with it, fearing that they don’t have enough back story.
I’ve certainly had that happen to me. Lost, 24, and several others looked interesting, but I never got started with them. I started watching Heroes, but missed an entire season, and haven’t watched it since because I don’t know what’s going on, or how the last story arc got resolved. This fall season I’m giving several new dramas a try, and I’m already running into problems keeping up.
The first of these is Flash Forward on ABC. Many years ago NPR did a review of Robert J. Sawyer’s book upon which the series is based. They highly recommended it, so I bought it and thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so that I bought the next six books that Sawyer wrote. Sawyer’s science fiction is just that – full of science and believable near-future events. Flash Forward has been my favorite of his books, but the others are good, too.
So far the television series is doing an excellent job with the story. The premise is as follows: something happens, and the entire world blacks out for 2 minutes and 37 seconds. During that time, everyone has a vision of six months in the future. Some see good things, and some bad. Some see nothing, and assume that in six months they will be dead.
In addition to the visions of the future, the blackout has catastrophic consequences in the present. This is a scenario commonly played out by those envisioning The Rapture – unattended airplanes, cars, and buses crash. People fall and are injured. A total of 22 million people are killed in the incident.
The show follows a group of FBI agents intent on finding the cause of the blackout based on what they saw in the future. It’s a marvelous story device. You get glimpses of what has happened with loads of foreshadowing. You also question these visions. What was the context? Are they inevitable, or just one possible future? Are the visions self-fulfilling as people seek out those they saw in their visions?
So far I’ve found one gaping plot hole. All you would need to do is find one person who had a vision that was corroborated by someone else. Kill that person, then the vision can’t possibly come true, and you will know for a fact that it’s not inevitable.
I missed three episodes of this show, and had gotten quite behind. Fortunately I was able to watch them all online while I’ve been out sick this week. Sometime I’m going to have to give up my aversion to TIVO.
The two shows that have my interest are both remakes. Also on ABC is a remake of V. While it looks interesting, so far it seems to be staying true to the original, just with some updated special effects. In a way it’s very similar to Flash Forward – there is a momentous event, and everyone figures out how they are going to respond to it.
The SciFi (SyFy) channel recently ran a marathon of the 1980’s version of V. It seemed a bit campy, but more because the show looks very dated. All of the aliens were wearing Michael Jackson outfits with crazy shoulder pads. I was surprised that the new version kept the idea that the aliens are really lizard-like with some sort of disguised covering. We’ll see how long this one holds my attention.
And finally, we come to AMC’s remake of The Prisoner. In this update, Ian McKellan plays Number Two, and Jim Caviezel is Number Six. The original was one of the only shows to give me nightmares as a child because of its bizarre imagery. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. It’s hard to think of the show without Patrick McGoohan in the title role.
So, will I keep up with these shows? We’ll see. I don’t like having my schedule dictated by a TV show, and I have never bothered with TIVO. I’ve got a DVR on my Mac, but don’t use it much. I guess I’ll have to start recording these shows and copying them to my iPod so that I can watch them whenever, but that does seem like a lot of bother. We’ll just hope that Hulu.com stays free.