I’m not sure if I’m going to make a habit of posting weekly Lost reactions. First of all, there are countless other bloggers who do an infinitely better job parsing the show and its mythology (Doc Jensen, Videogum, Alan Sepinwall, AV Club to name a few) And second, I think I’d rather spend my time reading other people’s thoughts and theories than formulating my own, because immersing myself in the world of Lost and its possibilities is one of my all-time favorite pastimes. But, in honor of the season premiere, and in light of a post I didn’t get around to writing six weeks ago, I thought I’d put finger to keyboard and deliver commentary that’s more along the lines of Ken Tucker’s, focusing not on the mythology, but on the storytelling and the characters. Not on what the things in Lost mean, but on what is Lost‘s meaning.
The article that I intended to write in mid-December was Jumped The Snark’s list of the best shows of the 2000s (because I was the only blog on the face of the Internet that hadn’t weighed in on the matter). And at the top of the heap was going to be Lost, and not because it’s my subjective favorite, but because of what it represents, its overall impact. I won’t try to argue that it was the most tightly written, nimbly acted, nuanced, well-paced, consistently brilliant show of the last decade, because it’s probably not – that could be a number of other shows, from The Sopranos or Arrested Development or Veronica Mars or Freaks & Geeks or, from what I’ve seen in the first season, The Wire – but that’s not the point. What I believe sets Lost apart is that it was truly the first 21st Century television show, the first show of TV 2.0, because its reach expanded well beyond Wednesdays at 9pm. No other show before Lost permeated so deeply into other forms of media and popular culture. For several seasons, the morning after every new episode I spent a good hour reading recaps and theories and reader comments (and now, with Twitter, the feedback is even more instantaneous and somewhat overwhelming, but in a good way). For years now I’ve been listening to several fan podcasts as well as the official Lost podcast with Executive Producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. The last few San Diego Comic-Cons have been dominated by Lost; they’ve become a highlight of the convention in a way that no other TV show had before. There were the multi-media ventures like the Lost Experience games, Find 815, and the “Missing Pieces” webisodes. Whenever the show dropped a literary allusion people immediately researched the book, and many even read the source text. It spurred interest in biblical history, in mythology, in ancient civilizations, and in Renaissance philosophers and enlightenment thinkers. It’s inspired people to learn. And it’s brought people together like no other show before. In many households (okay, apartments in Brooklyn) Wednesday night was Lost Night, a time to get together, order pizza, turn off your phones and have your minds blown, and then afterward commiserate over everyone’s mutual confusion. My first roommates were my roommates precisely because of our shared appreciation for the show; it created a bond stronger than friendship. For all those reasons, I felt that Lost was the best show of the aughts.
However, while watching the final season premiere last night I realized my argument was slightly off. I still believe that Lost was the best show of the decade, and all those reasons outlined above still apply. But, while under the spell of the show, I understood that I hadn’t given it enough credit. Yes, it’s spread through and utilized new media like no show before it. Yes, it’s become a multi-media experience. But it also deserves to be at the top because of the content, because of the strength, and the courage, of its stories. For the last six seasons Darlton and the team behind Lost have been staging perhaps the greatest (and longest) high-wire act in television history, almost certainly in network history. And the fact that Lost has been able to take these chances – flashbacks, dense mythology, mysterious corporations, flashforwards, time travel and, now, flash-sideways – on ABC makes their accomplishment even more impressive. It’s easy, and entirely correct, to look back on the 00s as the decade when the best shows on television slid way down the dial to HBO, Showtime, FX, AMC; but among this backdrop Lost could be found on a single-digit channel, delivering risky plot twists and head scratching game changers far beyond much of their cable brethren. The framework was more confined, but they found a way to do more, and they were never afraid to take a chance that might alienate their fans (save for Nikki and Paulo, whom I still sorta standby). And three years ago, Damon and Carlton did something else that was basically unheard of on network television, set an end date to their wildly popular show. They could have run the show into the ground, allowed ABC to renew it as long as it was profitable. But they wanted to honor their fans, and respect their own characters, and tell the story filler-free (and, clearly, this decision has been proven to be completely right, as seasons four and five were stellar down the line, and we haven’t’ had a repeat of season three “mini-season” misstep).
So as I begin to watch season six, and as the show inches closer toward its inevitable conclusion, we should realize that we’re lucky. There might not be a show like this again, at least not on network television. Is the acting always the best? No. The writing? No. The CGI? Definitely not. But no other show has competed with such a high degree of difficulty for such a long period of time. High risks, immense rewards.
Come May 23, when the show signs off with a 2-hour finale, it’s almost guaranteed that faction of die-hard Lost fans will be incredibly disappointed, unfilled, and maybe even angry. But then try to show me another show that can elicit the same kind of strong emotional reaction. If you can, I’ll revise the list. Until then, Lost will remain #1.
2 responses to “Thoughts on the LOST Premiere AKA Why LOST Was the Best Show of the Last Decade”
While I love Lost and agree with you on a number of points, I do think you give the show a little too much credit. It’s certainly courted internet fandom in a way no other series has, but it certainly didn’t invent it. The earliest web-community I think could be called “vibrant” would be Buffy. While it never gained the breadth of Lost’s follow, it was also a pioneer in envelope pushing serialized television. That doesn’t really make it any better than Lost, my point is just that “firsties” is a very slippery claim.
I agree with you completely that Lost does more with story-structure than any other show, it’s what I find most fascinating about it. The best indicator of the show’s greatness is its ability to keep the audience hooked while defying what narratives are “supposed” to be.
Finally, the fact that Lost is on a network and not cable does make it’s accomplishments more impressive, but that shouldn’t cloud our impressions of those accomplishments. The Wire and Dexter may get an easier ride on cable, but a better show is a better show, regardless of where it airs.
Thanks for the thoughtful (and extremely valid) comments, and most of all thanks for taking the time to read the post. I’ll admit, I am guilty of a bit of sensationalism and hyperbole. As I was writing it I was cognizant that I was making a few generalizations, and I did mean to caution that while Lost may have created more buzz and participated in “extra curriculars” to a greater degree than other series before for it has, there are indeed others series who previously marched upon similar ground. It’s no secret that this kind of “fandemonium” existed before Lost, and that much of Lost’s stories and characters take their cues from various other shows, films and texts; but I think my overall point is that Lost has synthesized all these elements in an epic, groundbreaking way. So am I giving the show too much credit? Yes, absolutely. But that’s just the effect is has on me.
Oh, and thanks reminding me about Dexter.