Time travel is tricky.
The first time travel story that I remember seeing on television was "The City on the Edge of Forever" from the original Star Trek series. That story went with the "future is not written in stone and can be changed" paradigm. I have seen dozens if not hundreds of time travel stories since, and they have become a beloved staple of science fiction.
And yet despite all the history, all the different renditions, time travel remains incredibly difficult to do right. I would say the last season of Lost is a shining example of how to do it correctly. Questions of fate intermixed with how knowledge of the future plays out beautifully. But one of the reasons it worked so well was that the writers were clearly aware that you need to pick a philosophy of how time travel works and obey the logic that follows.
FlashForward, ABC's latest science fiction offering, is a mess that drops time travel to new lows. The premise is that for two minutes the entire population of the planet blacked out, and saw two minutes of the future six months from now. But the show's writers made a fateful decision: the flash forwards people saw depended on the blackout event happening. That is, this was a glimpse of the future that depended on the blackout event. In fact, the main character bases his entire investigation of the blackout on clues seen during his flash forward.
And immediately everything breaks down. If you knew, knew, that you would have a glimpse of the future at a certain time and date, would you go about business as usual that day? Would you spend those two minutes calling your credit card company? Would you go to bed early that night? Of course not!
Stockbrokers would have a summary of the economy's performance in front of them. Scientists would be looking at six months worth of the top breakthroughs. Someone whose husband died of cancer detected too late would be pouring over medical tests.
The problem is: everyone would know that they had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to communicate with their past selves. They would not choose this unique event in human history to read the sports section while in the restroom. But the show expects us to believe that a field director of the FBI would do exactly that. And that another character would decide that these pivotal two minutes would be a good time to get drunk.
All this could have been fixed if the show designers had realized for one second that the flash forwards cannot depend on the blackout event. Then they could have realized their vision of flash forwards that represent random slices of the future. But knowing the time and date of the flash forward makes the entire concept of the show ridiculous from the get go.
In science fiction it is more important that basic logic and rules of storytelling be obeyed, not less. It really is that simple.
[Here's hoping they didn't screw up the remake of "V".]