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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Friday, March 26, 2010 6:55 am
Reading the Screen: A Flash(Forward) in the Pan?
Posted by: David Pitt

flashforwardSo FlashForward, the ABC series based on the 1999 Robert J. Sawyer novel, is back, after a hiatus that probably made most of us forget the show ever existed.

There’s nothing tragically wrong with the show, but there’s nothing especially right about it, either.

I understand why ABC had to make some of the changes they made. Sawyer’s novel is about a group of physicists who, while conducting an experiment, accidentally plunge nearly everyone on Earth into a two-minute coma (sort of). While they’re unconscious, people see glimpses of their own futures, two decades down the road.

Obviously you can’t make a series about a bunch of physicists in a remote research lab (well, you could, but would anybody watch it?). And you can’t make a series whose payoff doesn’t come for 21 years. So I get why ABC shortened the flashforward to roughly six months, and I get why they tinkered with Sawyer’s characters, turning them into FBI agents, and doctors, and whatnot.

What I don’t get, though, is why they made the show so slow-moving and dull. Sawyer’s novel, for all its high-concept ideas and high-tech setting, moves at a brisk clip. Sawyer involves us in his story, and in his characters. He is one of the best science fiction writers in the business. (I’ve read everything he’s written. If you’re a science fiction fan, you should, too.)

The TV series, on the other hand, moves about as fast as a snail with another snail on its back, and the characters are so uninvolving that I had to check Wikipedia to remind me who they were. 

Watch the show, or don’t watch it. That’s up to you. (I figure it won’t be around long.) But, please, read the book. See what a top-flight storyteller can do with this genuinely thought-provoking and engaging premise.


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