Part 4: The Flash Forward
"I hate when they do that!" Those are the fateful words that started this blog series. And I do. I hate when they do that. That thing I call the "flash forward." I don't know if the device has an actual name, but this is what I've decided to call it. The other option is that television shows are increasingly told in complete flashback mode. Now that I have you completely confused, let me explain.
Over the last several years, it has become fairly common practice for shows to start with a sequence in which we immediately find the heroes in mortal danger. We're just dropped into the middle of the action with no context whatsoever. After a few minutes to either completely confuse the audience so we're saying, "what's going on?" or to bring the hero(es) to the edge of death so we're saying "oh, crap," we switch to a new scene with a message something along the lines of "24 Hours Earlier." That's where the story actually begins. That bit at the beginning is just a gimmick to generate false interest in the viewer so that the viewer wants to watch the episode, and I call it a "flash forward." It's a substitute for actual story telling.
I hate it.
Not that I always hated it. The first few times, it was kind of novel. Neat. But it's the kind of thing that should be the exception, the rare exception, not the rule. But I see it all the time.
Now, I will say that I may be more sensitive to this... issue... than the average television viewer due to the way I watch television, which is to say, I don't watch television. As such. First, we don't have cable. Second, we don't have satellite. Third, we don't even have an antenna. This translates into us never watching anything when it's originally aired, since all we get on our television is snow unless we're using the DVD player. We tend to watch shows in bursts due to this, either on DVD or streaming on Netflix. There have been shows where they begin 50-75% of the episodes with these flash forward bits and then drop us back in time to actually start the story up. Because I'm watching them back-to-back, it might be more bothersome to me than if I was watching the show once a week.
However, because it's caught my attention, I can say that it's a cheap trick designed to rope in viewers with the thrill of quick action. And it saves the show a bit of money since they have several minutes of footage they get to use twice (once we catch back to the beginning of the episode and get to see it again in context). Why does everything have to be a gimmick to trick us into watching things? If the show is good, has well written stories and good acting, people will watch it. Theoretically, anyway. Maybe Arrested Development should have employed this technique? No, probably not.
We've been re-watching Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, lately, just to put this whole thing in perspective. In the three seasons we've watched so far, there has not been one of these flash forward bits, and I will be surprised if we come across any in the full run of the show. I don't remember any, at any rate. I do think Firefly had one episode with a flash forward, but I don't remember more than that. Not that this has anything to do with Joss Whedon in particular, because those shows were before the gimmick became so common.
Maybe I'm being harsh. Maybe TV directors just use it because they think it's cool to start the shows that way. At first, it was. Actually, no, I doubt it. Because it's so frequent, I feel fairly confident that it's the producers and the networks advising the directors to start as many episodes as possible with the climax of that episode. Grab the people and make them want to see what's going on. Of course, when the episode turns out to be a piece of trash, you just feel cheated, so it doesn't keep a bad series from getting cancelled.
So, let me just say again, "I hate when they do that!" Yes, those are the fateful words that started this blog series, and I do. I hate when they do that. I'd like to say that those are the words that would end this series, but...
The real issue is that this flash forward thing is just a symptom of a larger problem. However, that's a problem for the next post in this series. Although I'd like to fight this particular symptom, I do think it's time to start looking at the disease.
To Be Continued...