You never forget your firsts: your first crush, first date, first kiss, first love.
For an obsessive television viewer, especially one with a soft spot for romance, your first “will they, won’t they” series holds a special place.
While I watched Friends sporadically without truly connecting with the iconic sitcom, and I’ve seen so much of How I Met Your Mother that I’m committed to witnessing its gradual decline towards the end, Flash Forward (1996–97), Disney Channel’s initial venture into original programming, remains my first personal investment in a romantic plot.
Upon revisiting Flash Forward, it becomes evident that it’s a hidden gem, one that doesn’t receive enough recognition for providing pivotal roles to two talented young actors destined for bright futures.
It masterfully combines youthful comedy with the intoxicating essence of budding romantic feelings.
Let’s address the elephant in the room from the outset: I’d much rather forget the existence of the dismal time-warp memory-blackout series “FlashForward,” which unfortunately tarnishes the legacy of Disney Channel’s inaugural original series.
Disney Channel had previously produced budget-friendly television adaptations of hit films like Aladdin or The Lion King
. Still, Flash Forward was a different beast altogether – a bold step into original live-action programming featuring kids in precisely their target demographic: eighth graders poised to transition from childhood to adolescence.
Flash Forward boasted several strengths. Foremost among them were the show’s exceptional leads, Ben Foster in the role of Tucker James and Jewel Staite as Becca Fisher. These two had been neighbors and friends since infancy.
Just as I tracked Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s career after finding him endearing on “3rd Rock From The Sun,” my affection for “Flash Forward” led me to follow the careers of Foster and Staite.
This wasn’t a taxing endeavor, considering both evolved from alternately hilarious and moving child actors into accomplished adults – Staite shining in the sci-fi series “Firefly” and its film continuation “Serenity,” among other credits, and Foster in notable films such as “3:10 To Yuma,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” and “The Messenger.”
Furthermore, the show landed a dynamite guest star for a two-episode stint, another child actor who grew into an adult wunderkind: Ryan Gosling, during his days on “The Mickey Mouse Club.”
The series kicks off on the first day of eighth grade, as Becca and Tucker start school and reunite with their best friends, Christine and Miles.
During an announcement over the school’s public address system, the obnoxious vice principal recites the school motto: “We come, we learn.”
In response, the kids in Becca and Tucker’s class chant, “We forget!” before the motto concludes with, “we forge ahead.”
This scene is from the pilot episode and serves as an apt metaphor for the series as a whole, reflecting the nostalgia of watching a show about 13-year-olds created in the mid-1990s.
Many episodes revolve around typical sitcoms and coming-of-age storylines.
First parties, friends’ disagreements, book burning, girls advocating for equality in sports, choosing between a passion for ballet and pursuing popularity through cheerleading – these are all familiar plots and easily recognizable themes.
However, the execution by Jewel Staite and Ben Foster in these roles is unparalleled.
The series is set in a time before the ubiquity of cell phones and the early days of the Internet, before the emergence of instant messaging.
The delightful title sequence features Becca and Tucker as young children communicating with a tin can telephone between their second-story windows.
Much emphasis has been placed on maintaining Clarissa Explains It All’s portrayal of its narrator and her best friend, Sam, as “just friends.”
Hey Arnold! and Doug, on the other hand, hinted at a romantic potential between their protagonists and a crush or a suitor but only began to see fulfillment toward the end of their runs.
In contrast, Flash Forward presented not just one lead or one perspective but two, creating a central friendship that always held the potential for something more.
Observing this particular plot shift from a mere background element at the start to becoming the focal point in the series’ concluding moments feels earned, thanks to a lot of youthful laughter and surprisingly heartfelt lessons about growing up.
Although Flash Forward only endured for a single season encompassing 26 episodes, it could almost be considered a two-season show.
The first four episodes depict the beginning of eighth grade, where Becca and Tucker are just beginning to explore their teenage years.
Episodes 5 through 26 were filmed much later, after Staite and Foster had fully entered puberty.
Voices had deepened, and kids had grown taller and more mature, yet they were still in eighth grade.
It was as if the scripts had all been written earlier, but production was paused until the kids better fit their roles.
This transition was somewhat awkward, especially with the recasting of Becca’s older sister.
Nevertheless, the undeniable charm of the leads and the gently endearing material ultimately prevailed.
This show, like almost every piece of programming on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon during that era, wasn’t geared towards families for joint enjoyment by parents and kids.
These networks primarily aired children’s shows, which is why series like Doug and Flash Forward relegated adult characters to the periphery.
While there were occasional appearances by parents, teachers at school, and other adults, Flash Forward was predominantly focused on the lives and concerns of two early teenage neighbors and their group of friends, often excluding family-related stories.
Flash Forward was one of the first series that I found difficult to part with, as it left me yearning for a more conclusive ending.
Perhaps it was due to my close friendships with girls or my identification with Tucker’s goofiness and Becca’s artistic side, but I was convinced that those kids needed to end up together in some way.
In the finale, after 20 minutes of complaining about having to kiss each other in a Robin Hood play, it makes perfect sense for them to let their guard down in one of those late-night phone conversations that seem to go on forever.
They finally reveal the fleeting moments in their friendship when they began to feel something more.
As they prepare backstage for the big kiss scene, their practice kiss, their first genuine kiss together, doesn’t take place on stage in front of everyone but in a private moment, with a false start that perfectly encapsulates their friendship and personalities.
Becca and Tucker probably wouldn’t ultimately end up together.
After a year filled with Becca’s fleeting crushes and Tucker’s persistent pining for someone unattainable, they find comfort in what is familiar and stable.
Following that final kiss that concludes the show, they might start dating as they enter high school, but many changes lie ahead that could divert their paths.
This is why the last scene serves as a perfect conclusion to this delightful one-season wonder.
It marks the beginning of the first genuine, solid relationship in Becca and Tucker’s lives with a lifelong friend.
Despite all the teasing and bickering, they deeply care about each other.
Even if a flash forward to their lives 10, 20, or 50 years down the road reveals that their paths have diverged and they didn’t defy all odds to remain together forever, the memory of their first significant relationship is something truly meaningful and special, shared with a best friend.
Odds & Ends:
As previously mentioned, all episodes of Flash Forward can be found on YouTube.
There hasn’t been any indication of a potential official release on DVD or any other format to date.
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