LOST Media Mentions - DarkUFO

Flash Forward

In the final minutes of "Six Feet Under" in 2005, the story sailed exhilaratingly ahead of us into the future, listing as it raced forward with all its characters on board. The sequence, TV's most epic epitaph ever, told the fates of each major character up to their deaths. After five seasons of gradual serial advancement, from A to B to C, "Six Feet Under" gunned it to Z.
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That ultimate flash-forward is part of what ABC's "Lost," CBS' "How I Met Your Mother," NBC's "Heroes," and Fox's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" are now turning into a TV fine art: The future. These four serials are playing around with time like never before, shaking up TV's usually quite conventional storytelling by giving us something like A to B to X to Y to C.

While "24" and "In Treatment" try to evoke real time by moving forward minute by minute in the present tense, "Lost," "How I Met Your Mother," "Heroes," and "Sarah Connor" are jumping all over the sequencing map, adding a fantastic new scope to prime-time narrative mostly seen until now in niche and hard-core sci-fi productions. They're pulling the mainstream scripted medium into further realms of potential, beyond the predictable beginning-middle-ending structure.

Time scheming with the future is more commonly used in 20th century literature and the movies - think of the Kurt Vonnegut novel "Slaughterhouse-Five," in which a man becomes "unstuck in time," or the "Star Wars" movie prequels, which hinge entirely on what we know is going to happen later on. Indeed, fractured time frames have been in vogue at the movies for over a decade now, with the likes of "Pulp Fiction" and "Memento." Television shows, which exist in time and are works in progress over years, have shied away from future shock and end game. Most series go on indefinitely, an extended middle ("Law & Order" is now in its 18th season) with a cursory finale if the network permits. Once you've seen the denouement, according to typical TV wisdom, the rest is anticlimax. It's the soap opera aesthetic, which has defined TV shows since serial storytelling leapt from the radio to TV.

But "Lost," in particular, has put the lie to that more Victorian-novel-style thinking, showing us how the future can increase a serial's mystery. By giving us the end, the writers are free to focus on the intrigue of getting there - what led up to the peculiar positioning of the characters later on. The future outcome is built into the ongoing structure of the series, not just a tag at the end, as it was on "Will & Grace" when the sitcom ended with Will and Grace's kids romantically involved down the line.

On "How I Met Your Mother," we've known since the first episode that narrator Ted Mosby will find love, that it won't be with Robin, and that he will have two children. That would be like having known Ross and Rachel would end up together all during 10 years of "Friends." (Think of all those romantic on-and-offs NBC would have had to forgo during sweeps months.)

This season the "Lost" writers, led by producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, are incorporating the future into the drama every week. The action on the mysterious island is now punctuated with events taking place long afterward, when six characters from the Oceanic 815 plane crash - among them, Jack, Kate, Hurley, and Sayid - have made it back home. What had been the present tense for the show's first three seasons - the initial months after the crash - is now becoming the past. The "Lost" time scheme is so thoroughly up in the air, it can take the viewer a moment or two to figure out where in time we are when an episode begins. We're lost in space and, now, time.

For all we know, the off-island future may become the past by the end of the series, in 2010. Perhaps Jack, Kate, and others will return to the island before the series finale, in effect recalibrating the current flash-forwards into flashbacks. Anything can happen on "Lost" - it's the perfect show to be breaking new narrative ground, since its viewers have proven their willingness to be both loyal and intelligent.

"How I Met Your Mother" is giddy with time scheming on a weekly basis, too, as creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas tease us with whom Ted will end up, and how he will find her. They use the future tense regularly, with the quick back-and-forths that "Arrested Development" and animated series have flirted with over the years. The narration slips ahead and behind, between days and hours and years - letting us know along the way that Marshall and Lily will stay married, for example. Aaron Sorkin often framed episodes of "The West Wing" as flashbacks, as have other TV writers, but he didn't frame his entire series in terms of our knowledge of the future.

"The Sarah Connor Chronicles," which is having its season finale tomorrow night, is predicated entirely on the future. As in the first two "Terminator" movies on which the series is based, we know that John Connor, Sarah's son, will save mankind in the future, if Sarah can protect him from metal emissaries sent from the future to destroy him. Like "Heroes," which has also made all of time its canvas, the series slides all over the time spectrum - recently, guest star Brian Austin Green's Derek "remembered" events set in 2028, for example.

Ironically, we have reality TV and Web logs to thank, in part, for these lurches into the future. Scripted TV storytelling has been maturing on its own in the past decade, largely due to the money and independence of cable channels. Cable's resources brought us "The Sopranos" and the elevation of TV series to the cultural stature of theatrical movies. But that maturation process has only been hurried along by unscripted reality shows and Internet logs, which, along with video games, represent a significant competition for eyeballs to scripted TV.

For survival, scripted TV has had to evolve and distinguish itself. Time scheming into the future and back again is something reality-based shows simply can't do, especially live shows such as "American Idol." On reality TV, everything leads up to the big reveal. Indeed, "American Idol" does everything it can to shake up the limited reality formula by obsessing over the contestants' backstories.

By making the future part of the present, "Lost," "How I Met," "Heroes," and "Sarah Connor" have made themselves more writer-dependent. If "The Bachelor" can only tell the story of a man looking for love and then finding love, "How I Met Your Mother" can show us a man finding love and then looking for it. All kinds of time-scheming TV experiments - the season-long flashbacking of the WB's 2005 murder-mystery "Reunion," Taye Diggs reliving the same day on "Day Break" - have also become more common, if not particularly successful, in recent years.

Sales of TV shows on DVD and power-watching also play a significant role in the evolution of TV storytelling. Television shows now exist as objects, like books and movies, and they can be viewed in fell swoops. Rather than seemingly endless stories experienced only over months and years, TV shows have become more like elongated movies. They can be written with more narrative invention because audiences are more aware of them as finite pieces of art. People actually do watch entire series, or at least entire seasons, in short bursts of time, as they might read a novel. They no longer need the plot mysteries dangled in front of them as a lure to keep watching.

Just as the phrase "moving forward" has become a corporate favorite, the idea of moving forward and backward in a story is gaining momentum. Time keeps on slipping into the future, and so do TV's plot devices.

Source: Boston Globe

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