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Epic drama that will hook you in a flash

We've been waiting so long to see FlashForward and heard so much about it already that finally watching it feels more like having a flashback. But if the rip-roaring, back-to-back opening episodes are anything to go by, it was worth the wait.

This is the kind of American TV drama we've grown to know and savour: long, labyrinthine, epic in scope and packed with enough incident and characters to keep half a dozen feature films busy.

The hero is FBI agent and recovering alcoholic Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes, younger brother of Lord Voldemort himself, Ralph). On a hot day in LA, he and his partner are engaged in a ferocious car chase with what appear to be terrorist suspects, when everyone on the planet simultaneously blacks out for exactly two minutes and 17 seconds.

Benford awakes to find carnage and chaos everywhere; the scenes of smoke billowing from buildings and the news that 877 American planes plummeted to Earth during the mass blackout strongly (and hardly accidentally) evokes 9/11.

Paranoid

He learns that everyone has had a unique vision of where they will be and what they will be doing six months in the future, on April 29, 2010, at precisely 10pm.

Benford sees himself alone in his office, paranoid and surrounded by the trappings of a future investigation, while a group of armed, masked men with laser rifles and strange tattoos try to kill him. He's also back on the booze, frantically guzzling from a hip flask.

His wife Olivia (Sonya Walger), a doctor, has a vision of herself being intimate with another man. He turns out to be Lloyd Simcoe (Jack Davenport), a widowed father whose young son was brought into the ER.

Meanwhile, Benford's AA sponsor (Brian F O'Byrne) has a spooky vision of his daughter, a soldier in Afghanistan, who, when last seen, was dead.

But the bleakest futurescape of all is reserved for Benford's FBI partner Demetri Noh (John Cho). He sees nothing but darkness during his blackout, leading him to the conclusion that he'll be either asleep or dead in six months' time. His worst fears are realised when he receives a mysterious phone call from a woman he's never met, telling him he'll be murdered in March.

An already dense plot thickens when the FBI discovers grainy CCTV footage of a shadowy figure walking around a baseball stadium in Detroit while everyone else in the place is unconscious. So what's going on? Is it a terrorist attack? Is it aliens? Is it mass hysteria? The possibilities are endless -- which might just well be a snag.

American critics are already describing FlashForward, which is apparently intended to run for five series, as "the new Lost". I hope not. Lost got so lost in its own mythology it long ago left many of us stranded on an island of indifference.

But let's not flash forward too hastily. For now, FlashForward is cracking stuff that will reel you in like a fish on a hook.

FOR TOMORROW: Pat will be reviewing The Story of the Noughties (BBC2) and enjoying a rotten profile of John Lydon on The Culture Show (BBC4)

STACEY'S STARS

FlashForward *****


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