It’s the most original, impeccably acted, cleverly written, beautifully photographed and, most importantly, unbelievably fun show I’ve ever seen. There are other contenders, sure, but the scope, ambition and imagination of Lost trumps them all.
If someone asked me about The Sopranos I’d say, “it’s a mafia show about family and relationships.” If someone asked me about The Office I’d say, “it’s about the mundanity of modern life.” The only other show that rivals its complexity is The Wire, which I would describe as “an examination of today’s America from the perspective of cops, criminals and the eroding middle class.”
But how could anyone sum up Lost in a single sentence? “It’s about a mystical island somehow bound by fate to a plane full of people which crashed on it at the lowest points in their lives and who were subsequently cured of cancer, paralysis, etc, only to be threatened by a shapeshifting monster composed of black smoke and an as-yet-unexplained native tribe that may or may not include members of a defunct (or is it?) scientific study with questionable ethics called the Dharma Initiative, all in relation to a philosophical exploration of the concepts of free will and determinism and how they relate to the existence or nonexistence of God.”
And that’s such an insane oversimplification of the show that I actually feel guilty about writing it.
All shows have their detractors but Lost’s haters are a particularly annoying breed. The biggest complaint is that it goes nowhere, solving one mystery while hatching another. This is Ugly American talk at its most ignorant.
Decades of lawyer/cop procedurals that open with a crime being committed and close with the bad guy going to jail have held back the format for so long that when a show finally uses TV’s ability to tell epic stories everyone bitches about it.
This happened once before, with David Lynch’s landmark Twin Peaks. You may remember that it lasted a season and half before its audience – like meth-addled vultures – demanded to know the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer, concerned more with a single murder than the show’s larger abstract subject: the darkness creeping beneath idyllic America. In less than a year Twin Peaks literally went from the top of the ratings heap to the very bottom because of impatience, plain and simple.
Audiences have grown up a little since then, and though Lost’s ratings have eroded a bit as less… ahem, sophisticated viewers have tuned out, their dominance in the most important advertising demographics stay strong. At this point, there is a dedicated cult around the show that would probably follow it through anything (full disclosure: I would watch Lost if it ran for 20 years and made it to the fabled zombie season).
But I don’t think the show’s brilliant writer/producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse are lying when they say there’s an ultimate game plan that they’ve been following all along. They’re secure enough to face an interrogation from fans in a half-hour podcast every week and have made it clear from the beginning that the show will only go on for five or six seasons.
But if you still think they’re making this up as they go along, check out the magnificent episode a couple of weeks ago that explained why John Locke, the series’ most compelling and complicated character, was confined to a wheelchair before the crash. Turns out he was shoved out of a window by his evil con man dad for trying to end one of his scams.
Flash backward to season one’s famous “Numbers” episode focusing on hapless lottery winner Hurley. As he sits in his accountant’s office reflecting on how awful his life has become since winning his millions, we see a man falling in the window behind him. Crazy!
I guess what really irks me about Lost complaints is that no one would ever dream of leveling the same criticism against any other show. I bet at least half of the audience would be content to read a paragraph laying out everything that’s going to happen in its entire run and never watch again.
Would anyone say the same for Grey’s Anatomy or CSI or CSI: Miami or CSI: New York or CSI: Bangalore? It’s to be expected, though, as Lost walks the delicate line between art and commerce like no series before it. Let’s just hope it continues to put its lofty aspirations ahead of the childish demands of the mainstream.