facebook_pixel Press "Enter" to skip to content

Looking to start your TV writing journey?

Posts tagged as “FlashForward”

Nonlinear Storytelling (PT70)

Alex and Nick discuss nonlinear narrative in television writing, from flashbacks to flashforwards.

What are effective uses of nonlinear storytelling? When should you work with flashbacks, flasforwards or parallel storylines? What are dos and donts of nonlinear narratives? Are there drawbacks of out-of-order storytelling?

Plus, we talk The Mick case and Amazon’s Lord of the Rings.

The Paper Team flashes around…



Paper Scraps: The Mick and Amazon’s LOTR (00:52)
1 – Brief history of nonlinear storytelling in TV and when to use it (04:52)
2 – Examples of effective TV nonlinear narratives (13:16)
3 – Dos-and-dont’s of nonlinear (31:39)
4 – Drawbacks of nonlinear (35:23)
Takeaways and Resources (40:43)


“Protecting and Over-Protecting Your TV Script: Copyright, Ownership and Idea Theft” (PT23)
Wikipedia’s list of nonlinear narrative television series
FlashForward (TV Show)
“Time’s Arrow” (4×11 – BoJack Horseman)
“Thanksgiving” (2×08 – Master of None)
“The Visitor” (4×03 – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
“Get Me a Lawyer” (1×01 – Damages)
River Song (Doctor Who)


“Slaughterhouse-Five” – Kurt Vonnegut
“Nonlinear Storytelling” – Game Design Concepts
“The 21st Century Screenplay” – Linda Aronson

This episode brought to you by Tracking Board’s Launch Pad Writing Competitions

Use code PAPERTEAM to get $15 OFF when you enter a Launch Pad Competition

Special thanks to Alex Switzky for helping us edit this episode.

If you enjoyed this episode (and others), please consider leaving us an iTunes review at paperteam.co/itunes! :)

You can find Paper Team on Twitter:
If you have any questions, comments or feedback, you can e-mail us: [email protected]

Seven Years of TV Analysis

We’ve taken a long glance at a lot of TV shows over the past seven years.
In fact, I’m usually pretty vocal about shows I love, and shows I…do not.

Before the age of Ultron TV marathons and binge-watching had arrived, I pointed out “why mythological shows are often idolized.” I’d probably broaden the scope to “serialized shows” now, but most of my points still stand:

In marathon-like screenings, the mind is somewhat submissive to the story told and the episode. The brain is passive, not active. You don’t have time to really think about the many twists and turns since you’re watching them unfold. You’re “eating” away the episodes, not “digesting” them. Everything will probably seem to blend into a unified storyline instead of finite stories broadcast every week or so with hiatus lasting months in-between seasons. Watching the first three seasons of Battlestar back-to-back won’t be the same thing as having been there since 2003.
For one thing, you didn’t theorize during Season One or Season Two. That might not seem all that important, but not being able to think for several months or years (or even only days in the case of a marathon) about who the twelve Cylons are won’t make you aware of how preposterous the introduction of the Final Five during the show’s third Season is. If you care a little bit about a show, you’ll surely think about it, start asking yourself questions. Let’s be honest, we all have way too much time on our hands and we love to theorize. Shows such as BSG or Lost work because you can theorize about them all day long… Until you can’t due to a faulty mythology.
Turns out, when watching episodes back-to-back you don’t have months to think about “what’s in the Hatch” or anything else that deserves theorizing. You’re not expecting special answers either, so you rarely end up disappointed either.

Since we’re on the topic, I did expand in another article on my love-hate relationship with Battlestar Galactica (as the show concluded six years ago).
And speaking of finished shows–
There was this post on why Dollhouse might be renewed, and a counter-post on why Dollhouse would be canceled. Turns out I was right on both ends. It would get a second season, thanks to some of the elements I brought up, and then subsequently would get canned, again mostly due to the aforementioned reasons. Looking back, it’s interesting to see that even at the time I was alluding to the concept of “brand” for writers. Namely, Joss Whedon’s geek appeal. (Part of which would get him the Avengers gig later on.)

As I said previously, I often voice (or write) my opinion on shows, even if it’s a negative one. One such example (and disappointment) was with the series premiere of FlashForward. For over a year, I had hyped the show. I loved the script, Iloved the cast, I was anxious for the final result. Unfortunately, the finished product left a lot to be desired:

Overall, what worked on the page didn’t work on screen.
I don’t blame the writing though, I blame the plain directing and editing.
A two-hour premiere would probably have given enough time to develop both the story and the characters. Sadly, this wasn’t the case. Better luck next time.

Although more optimistic, Lordy wrote at the time about two cult-adjacent series in Better Off Ted and Medium.

In science-fiction show news, I expanded on the unoriginality of Fringe. First I tackled its resemblance to The X-Files, before comparing its alt-world dichotomy to that of Sliders.
And we shan’t forget Heroes, now incidentally coming back from the dead. During its third season, I explained why Heroes should not set an end date.

Haters gonna hate.

Case in point: my 2009 article on the heydeys of Mad Men, or as I called it, “Mad Men: demystifying the overhyped“.

When a single series occupies 80% of all writing nominations despite obvious worthy contenders, when Times Square dedicates a whole evening to said series’ season premiere, when virtually everyone declares it the best series of the year, no matter how good the show actually is, that’s Mad Men.
And Mad Men is being overhyped.

Finally, let’s transition to more positive thinking, and three of our biggest talking points over the past seven years: Lost, Star Trek, and Breaking Bad. Trek was more writing (and Terran)-related, the other two were about their end.
To celebrate all three, we dedicated for each an entire week of brand new in-depth articles. Kind of like what we’re doing now with this site, except with original content.

The first one was the end of Lost, and our Lost Week. On top of articles covering Lindelof/Cuse quotes, Lost parodies and the future of the brand, my main focus was on a big aspect of the show: how Lost revolutionized TV storytelling. One example were its use of flashforwards:

Flashforwards in Lost gave weight to something that was rarely used, or at least not for their sake, but just to give hints of the future. It was the ABC show that truly revealed the potential of such a storytelling technique. The series had showed again that audiences could follow simultaneously two very different timelines. Not since La Jetée have we had such a complex array of timelines, combining both analepses and prolepses. One could argue the writers are trying to catch the lightning in the bottle once more with this season’s flashsideways technique. But all they’re actually creating is a fake sense of nostalgia.

On September 2013, I decided to spec and release a pilot for a new Star Trek show (Terran). We already covered that aspect earlier in the week, which is why I wanted to bring up another post I did on the subject: “Why Star Trek?” — The State of an Enduring Franchise. Beyond my own spec experiment, it was a way to express why we needed (and still need) a new Star Trek series. Here’s a taste:

One of the most interesting trait of the genre has always been that it could serve as an echo of reality. And the world desperately needs a reflection of itself.
You could make a pretty long list of contemporary issues that are begging to be explored (surveillance, social class, role of government, etc.). These are issues that would still be prevalent within the Trek-verse. In fact, the franchise has always been great at taking on societal and moral issues throughout its series (some more contemporary than others).

Even more importantly, Star Trek endures because it always has been forward-looking.
Star Trek stands for hope. Reaching for the sky and going where no one has gone before. It is sending a positive outlook about people. A better humanity, united, and equal. We need Star Trek on TV to inspire society, but also a new generation, people growing up to be explorers in their fields. This is about believing in a better future and striving to better ourselves.

We need a new Star Trek series, not for the fans of the franchise, but for everybody else. We need it for the bigger picture.

What a rallying cry!

Last but certainly not least, we had the end of Breaking Bad, and our Breaking Bad Week. I’m actually even happier with the amount of great, thoughtful articles we did on the show. (Maybe I’ll edit a book with these fancy posts!)
I covered the amazing experimental storytelling of Breaking Bad:

The show took the time to breathe and embrace the real world around it, and feed the humanity of its characters. Consequences and repercussions mattered because of the time spent at building these relationships, this status quo being broken apart. Like a steady hand on the wheel, it knew where it was heading towards. It was spending its time on meaningful moments. Bad was about real emotions, real greed, real jealousy, real fear. All of it stemming from smaller scales. The series was not trying to milk these moments, it was trying to establish context. Even in the craziness of season five, you still had family moments and humorous moments, like Skinny Pete and Badger’s Star Trek conversation.

We talked about the realism of Breaking Bad:

The show was hyper-serialized, and given its time-frame (one year within the story), it couldn’t afford being “ripped from headlines” topical. Nonetheless, it was still relevant. We’ve already seen how the series embraced its everyday roots by showing the “moments between the moments”. And the show proved to be even more receptive to its cartel storylines. Most notably, in the second season, the now-iconic image of a drug informant getting beheaded (and later put on a tortoise). “Extreme” moments that are, actually, completely believable (and similarly happened later in real life). Another great example of an atypical sequence is Los Cuates de Sinaloa’s narcocorrido track inspired by Heisenberg in 2×07 (“Negro Y Azul”). Narcocorridos are traditional Mexican songs with lyrics usually inspired by illegal criminal activities, often cartel-related. Although not a music genre well-known in the States, it nonetheless cements his story within the “real world”.

We braced ourselves for the failings of Breaking Bad:

As a fervent viewer of the show since day one, that season two buildup was one of the biggest cock-teases in recent TV history. It wasn’t as bad as Lost’s smoke monster, or Battlestar Galactica’s Cylon plan, but for a season-long mystery, it was definitely a miniature version.
It may not play out the same now, as you binge-watch the show, but when it came to a weekly viewing, the resolution of such an extended teasing was nothing short of a slap in the face.

A little too harsh? Only time will tell.

And then we talked about the legacy of Breaking Bad, most notably its serialized binge-viewing:

With the advent of Netflix and other great streaming services, Breaking Bad was able to capitalize on its serialization where other shows had previously failed. Word-of-mouth coupled with amazing cliffhangers (i.e. the need to watch the next episode) cemented its online boom.
It started out as a niche show that caught on with the popular success only coming the last couple of seasons. It is without a doubt thanks to the unprecedented access to Breaking Bad’s previous seasons that viewers were able to not only catch up on the show but tune in live for the final episodes. Bad was the first drama to fully benefit first-hand from the one-click-away access to its serialized episodes. Everybody caught on just in time for the final season. With only a couple million viewers watching the series “live” during most of its run, it isn’t a stretch to believe that more people actually watched the show on Netflix than on AMC.

Lots and lots of shows. Lots and lots of great analysis.

I can’t wait to see what I’ve been up to.

Lost Finale Thoughts: From The End to the beginning

Once upon a time, author Stephen King issued a challenge to the Lost writers:

Minus the continuing presence of David Duchovny, X-Files blundered off into a swamp of black oil, and in that swamp it died. If J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and their band of co-conspirators allow something similar to happen with Lost, I’m going to be even more pissed, because this show is better. Memo to Abrams and staff writers: Your responsibilities include knowing when to write The End.

Flash-forward to five years later: the 100-minute long Lost series finale, abstemiously entitled The End, airs on ABC.

Before I go into my in-depth look at Season Six and the series finale, let me get something out of the way:
Saying that people didn’t like The End because “there were no answers” and “it’s about the characters, stupid” is hypocritical.
If you flashback to a couple of years ago, I am betting Montand’s left arm that you were interested in knowing ‘what the hell is that black smoke’ more than ‘what the hell do Jack’s tattoos mean.’
In season Three, you were interested in knowing Juliet’s and Ben’s backstories not only because they were intriguing characters, but because they seemed at the time to hold key pieces of the Island puzzle.
And people tuned in en masse to the Season Two premiere not to see Jack’s divorce, but to discover what was in the hatch.
Don’t tell me otherwise, because that is either a blatant lie or misguided faith.
The only exception to this rule is the first half of Season One, which indeed delved more into the characters than the (not-yet-fleshed-out) mythology.
Lost drew a cult following because of its mysteries and original storytelling, not because the 815ers were the greatest characters on television at the time. If you disagree with this statement, then you’ve never watched, let’s say, Six Feet Under (2001-2005), The Wire (2002-2008), The Sopranos (1999-2007), or Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009), and the list goes on.
Like Lordy said in his own review, the fact that Lost did not answer any of its main mysteries is completely irrelevant to most people’s quarrels with the series finale.
Why? Newsflash: Darlton had 120 other episodes to answer questions.

So, no, my problem with Season Six does not reside in the lack of answers, it’s more in line with gross character neglect and unjustified fan manipulation.
The “character-only” approach of Lost is first untrue, but more importantly distorted. This point of view was only shaped last year when Lindelof and Cuse began to realize that they couldn’t satisfy fans with answers and needed to go back to a cleaner slate.

Cue the flash-sideways.
As they themselves admitted, the writers wanted to bring to the final season some symmetry in regards to Season One. Though admirable, the effort was pointless and quite frankly disappointing.
First, the idea here was to bring a new sense of mystery and discovery to the characters we had come to know throughout the years. Since doing a flashback on Jack’s ankle-tattoo seemed ridiculous at this point, they chose to do an altverse and switch things up a bit.
The only problem here, and it’s a big one, is that these are not our characters. They haven’t lived through the crash, they haven’t lived through the Island, they haven’t lived through six seasons of tumultuous events. Ergo, we do not care about them.

Of course, this whole ordeal was made irrelevant by the final revelation that, not only did none of it matter, but nothing was actually real. This was quite literally the metaphysical equivalent of ‘it was all a dream.’ Perhaps it wasn’t Vincent that dreamed Jack’s son, David, but this doesn’t mean I didn’t waste an hour watching his pre-adolescent angst towards his father.

There’s also the lack of any character development. Even if you were to assume that the flash-sideways actually happened and mattered, the finale rendered them nonexistent.
Paradoxically, this even impacted ‘our’ characters. For me, the whole emotional effect of Juliet and Sawyer’s reunion was nullified by the fact that, mere seconds ago, she was very content with being in a family with Jack and David. When she ‘remembered’, it was as if an instant brainwash had occurred. Now that Juliet was exchanging fluids with Sawyer, I was left to wonder if she recalled having a son and being with another man, or if her ‘old personality’ had crushed this new life.
Bringing back Julie Bowen as the mother would have actually made things better. And before you comment on her unavailability, allow me to remind you that Modern Family was actually shooting an episode in Hawaii at the same time! Talk about a wasted opportunity…

There is also all that happened on the Island.
The episode felt more to me like a season finale than a true series finale. There was no real farewell to the Island, contrary to what was alluded to since the season premiere (a cataclysmic event involving either a nuke or the volcano). The dramatic reveal of the Island being underwater now makes no sense at all.
As for the characters in peril, I’ll here quote Charlie Jane Anders’ great review of the finale:

Probably the greatest weapon in Lost’s arsenal was always its ability to make you care, desperately, feverishly about what happened to these people.
And in the end, I just didn’t care if that rock went in that hole or not. By extension, I had stopped caring whether the island sank. I had stopped caring about the fate of the Man In Black, long before he got kicked out of the episode prematurely. I didn’t care about any of it.

I do still have chills watching Through the Looking Glass or There’s No Place Like Home, but similarly to Anders, I have stopped caring about Jack & Coe for some time now.

Now about that ending.
What I found interesting about the ending of Lost was that it was thematically related to the series. It echoed two main components of the show as a whole: the fact that everyone was connected and the Island was the most important part of their lives — with one difference.
Whatever the timeline, Lost had always shown events directly (flashforwards) or indirectly (flashbacks) linked to the Island. Even when the Oceanic Six were on the main land, Lost lingered on how the crash and the on-Island events had impacted their lives. Sayid was working for Ben, Jack was suicidal because he wanted to ‘go back’, Kate was raising Aaron, Hurley had to lie about the crash, and so on.

For the first time, the flashes this season were neither about what preceded the crash, nor what followed it. The flashsideways were never narratively connected to the Island. This may be why some were let down by the ending. Basically, we were led to believe all along that, like the flashbacks and the flashforwards, the flashsideways would prove to be important to the understanding of on-Island events.
They weren’t. And, as we’ve seen, most of them were made irrelevant.

Beyond that, the end was also more abstract than some people appear to say. Though you do get some sort of a spiritual conclusion to the characters, you certainly do not get closure of what we might call their “corporeal selves.” You don’t know for instance Sawyer’s ultimate fate.
However, I accept that since, as pointed out above, what will happen in their lives onwards won’t have much to do with the Island.

One thing I don’t really get is the whole “moving on/letting go” part. Beyond the obvious meta comment, I don’t really understand what they have to “move on” from/to.
As far as I can see, virtually every single one of the Lostaways is finally happy, and has moved beyond his/her issues to a new realm of bliss.
Let’s take a look: Ben is a father figure to Alex, Jack is in love and has a son that cares about him, Sawyer stars in a ‘buddy cop’ drama with Miles, Hurley is lucky, Sun and Jin are finally free and about to have a baby, Locke is with Helen and can walk.
If one were to argue that the flashsideways had a point, it was to show that the characters had “moved on” from their (literally) otherworldly problems. Yet, now they need to abandon this wonderful world.
Would this message of “letting go” be present in the episode if it were not the series finale? I’d say no.

During the first four years, Lost was about rescue.
That was Jack’s purpose: to get his fellow castaways off the Island.
It was never about “moving on”, it was never about “letting go”, it was about “getting the hell off this damn rock” as Sawyer would say.
Season One ended with the raft launching, season Two ended with Penny discovering the Island, season Three ended with Jack communicating with a potential rescue team, and season Four ended with the actual rescue of the Oceanic Six.
Mission accomplished.

Personally, the show concluded with season Four. There’s No Place Like Home, the 2008 finale, does offer what I believe to be a great conclusion to the series.
Sure, some questions would have been left open-ended (how did Locke end up in that coffin?), but no more than the amount of mysteries further multiplied by the last two seasons.
Seasons Five and Six brought in unnecessary drama and one-sided debates. Indeed, once Jack is converted by Locke, there is no scientific counterpoint. Plus, since both MiB and Jacob appear in the flesh, no one is here to doubt their existence.
It also tried to solve major philosophical questions (Fate vs. Free-Will, Science vs. Faith) that, despite being part of the show from the very beginning, certainly did not need to have a clear-cut answer (you can guess which one).

Even though The End thematically resonates to the show as a whole, it certainly is not a true conclusion to the series’ ongoing purpose, only its last season. Ultimately, it ended with a tribute to its own completion. Whether this will shape the way Lost is viewed for generations to come remains to be seen.