Tuesday, May 25, 2010


No spoilers! Feel free to read if you've never seen "Lost."

I wasn’t watching “Lost” when it started in 2004. It was still baseball season. And while the Tigers weren’t in the race, I was just getting back into baseball after a long absence and I couldn’t get enough. My wife kept telling me about this great new show, and while it sounded interesting, I couldn’t tear myself away from the Tigers. So, I missed the first few episodes and figured that I’d just have to watch it later. When they started rerunning the show on Saturdays, I was still watching baseball but it started to occur to me that the show must be pretty good. Then, in December, when baseball was long over they started showing the first season over again on Wednesday nights. I was hooked.

I’m not going to try to convert anyone into becoming a fan of this show. Like my reaction to “Watchmen” last year, I loved it and I don’t really care who else does or doesn’t. I don’t care what the ratings were, how many people watched the finale Sunday night, or what anyone else thinks about it. For me, “Lost” was the ultimate TV experience. Like “Twin Peaks” before it, “Lost” kept you guessing. It was non-formulaic. The one thing I hate about TV series is how they repeat the same formula, over and over again. I don’t understand how anyone likes “Law & Order,” “NCIS,” all of the “CSI” shows, or even “House,” although the latter has been surprising lately. I like shows such as “Hill Street Blues” and “The Wire,” which were episodic, yet told a very long story with ongoing subplots, like televised novels.

“Lost” was the ultimate water cooler show. Scenes and events were open to interpretation. Where the show looked initially to be just another version of “Cast Away,” (the producers did use the Tom Hanks movie as inspiration), that notion was quickly dispelled in the first two hours when Sawyer killed a polar bear. But when the pilot of the crashed plane was yanked bodily from the cockpit (which was suspended high in a tree) by some unseen monster and slaughtered, it was abundantly clear that the survivors of Oceanic flight 815 were not on a typical tropical island.

People who weren’t familiar with the show have asked me over the years, “Isn’t that the show about the plane crash?” I always responded sarcastically and said something like, “Yeah, and the Star Wars trilogy is about two robots that crash in the desert.” It’s hard to describe the show, though, to someone who hasn’t experienced it. The first season was primarily about survival on the island, but it’s so much more I don’t know where to begin. The show is about survival, yes. But it’s more about faith. It’s about destiny. It’s about redemption. It’s about purpose, greed, leadership, guilt, love, hate, fear, revenge, compassion, perseverance, jealousy, protection. It’s about people.

“Lost” was a great show partially because of storytelling techniques. When we first meet the survivors of Oceanic flight 815 they have already crashed. We see how they act under the worst conditions imaginable. Through flashbacks, though, each character in turn is fleshed out, their motivations examined, their previous interactions with the world and even the other characters revealed. Through the looking glass into the past, the viewer finds that each character has his or her own flaws, and more than a few secrets.

Over time, “Lost” became a show that Magi and I watched together. We found ourselves having conversation after conversation after each show about the mythology surrounding the island and the interactions of the characters. Then, when that wasn’t enough, we started watching it together. We’d have conversations during the commercials. Sometimes the commercials came so abruptly that we were upset by the interruption, but other times we appreciated the chance to reflect together on what had just occurred. I don’t know how many times we both said, when an episode ended, that it was the best show ever. It was dozens of times, at least. We often found performances that we thought should earn Emmy awards. Josh Holloway, who played Sawyer, had a number of scenes last season that should have made him a shoo-in. Sadly, when any kind of science fiction or fantasy element is added to a show, your Emmy chances drop like a hot potato, and “Lost” has its share of those. Actors of the highest quality are often relegated to other science fiction shows of decidedly lesser quality when their shows go off the air. I hope that doesn’t happen with these people. They deserve better.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the music, here. It’s so important to the pure emotion of the story. Michael Giacchino, whom I’ve mentioned before, is one of the real stars of the show. His Academy Award-winning score for “Up” is really a spinoff of his work on “Lost.” The montage that introduced us to Carl Fredrickson is indicative of his previous work on this show. Often, the directors would just shoot a montage of the interactions of the cast of characters with Giacchino’s score over it to close an episode. There was no need for dialogue. And in the series finale Sunday night, his Oscar win was shown to be entirely justified.

If the music wasn’t beautiful enough, the setting of “Lost” certainly was. Filmed almost entirely in Hawaii, we were treated week after week to lush, gorgeous scenery that I had not fully appreciated until I saw it in high definition. I typically watched the first several seasons in standard definition, often on my 20” television in my basement office. With Netflix streaming the show in HD to our newer television, we are gaining a new appreciation for the way this show was meant to be seen. We always noticed that the credits were half on the screen and half off, when we watched those first seasons. “Lost” was working ahead of its time, with the full intention of being seen on higher-quality screens, much like “Firefly” was, three years previously. Sometimes we need to be dragged kicking and screaming into a new, more enjoyable experience. I can hardly wait until the series is released on Blu-Ray in August. I have never purchased “Lost” on DVD, so I won’t feel cheated for having waited.

Another amazing quality of the show was the fan following. Like Star Trek before it, “Lost” has a cult following. Scads of websites exist in support of the show, cross-referencing character appearances, settings, objects, and events. There are blogs aplenty about it. People comment on Doc Jensen’s blog by the thousands. I have to wonder now what Star Trek would have been like in the 60s if the Internet had existed! I bet it would have looked a lot like this.

I do marvel, though, at the way some of the reviews of the finale have been written. I don’t know how many times I have read something to the effect of, “I haven’t watched ‘Lost’ since the first season but the finale stunk.” People who have hated the show since the beginning have decided to pop by different websites to express their sympathy or disgust for those of us who have watched it for six years. I’m not sure of their motivation for doing so, and I never quite understand the loathing that geeks like us seem to attract, but there’s one thing of which I am sure. These snobs could really learn some lessons in humanity from actually watching the show. The messages sent and the lessons taught therein could benefit them far more than they have benefitted those of us who have seen it through. They shouldn’t feel sorry for us. It is we who should feel sorry for them. On those people, the irony is lost.

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