Monday, October 15, 2007

ABC's "Lost".

M. and I have decided to do another compulsive marathon viewing of a television series. This time around it is ABC's Lost. Last Thursday evening a friend called to alert me to the closings of two local Hollywood Video stores. They were selling their catalogues at a marked discount, and I was lucky enough to hear about it before all of the good stuff was taken. I came home with 22 additions to my collection, 13 of which comprised the complete sets for the first two seasons of a show I've been intrigued by since I initially became aware of its premise.

For some reason I've always been fascinated by the deserted island scenario. Although I never read Robinson Crusoe, I knew its basic plot from a very early age. The idea of washing ashore and finding myself completely alone was at once frightening and exciting. Would I have what it would take to survive under such conditions? Certainly not... but the challenge is interesting to consider. Those thoughts eventually transformed into reflections of who I would like to have with me on such a journey. I remember taking undergraduate prerequisite courses for a teaching certificate, and designing an assignment wherein I made a list of fictional characters and asked a group of students to decide who they would choose to save from a hypothetical sinking ship. This activity made people look closely at both their personal values and their survival instincts.

In retrospect I suppose it was completely natural that I eventually decided to invest in Lost. Created by J.J. Abrams, Jeffrey Lieber, and Damon Lindelof, the series begins with an awful plane crash and a harrowing scene of survivors on the beach of an unidentified island in the Pacific Ocean. The main players slowly reveal themselves over the first few episodes. Immediately we meet Doctor Jack (Matthew Fox) and Kate (Evangeline Lilly). It's immediately clear that these two characters are going to be with us a long time, and that we are probably going to eventually see them fuck (not explicitly though, as this is prime time network television). They are instantly recognizable as leaders in the initial chaos of the show. But we are also introduced to a host of other folks whose roles are initially unclear. Much of the fun of Lost is found in trying to predict how each one of these people will react to the difficulties that lie ahead.

It's always tricky to write a review of an ongoing series, especially if (like me) you've only watched about 18 episodes of the first season. On one hand you don't want to assume that you know the parameters of the show, but you also have to be careful to avoid spoiling the surprise for people that are moved to check it out after reading the review. So if you have already decided to go ahead and see it, you might want to skip the remainder of the post. Either way, I'll try not to spoil your fun.

As you might expect from a show that already includes four complete seasons, the island setting has a multitude of surprises and mysteries in store for the audience. It's important to note that the group of survivors that we encounter right-off-the-bat numbers around 47 people. If you're familiar with the typical conventions of the medium, you are probably aware that series producers generally limit the amount of characters that they expect viewers to get to know at any particular point in time. So for all intents and purposes, we get a focus on about 14 individuals . These players are revealed through flashback segments that gradually give us insight into their personal histories and circumstances before the tragic plane crash. This device both alleviates the claustrophobia of the prime setting, and helps explain the various motivations and complexities of the varying subjects.

Meanwhile the remaining portion of the main survivor group lurks anonymously in the background. While their absence is sometimes striking, Lost's creators use it to their advantage. These "seldom-seens" comprise a reserve of replacements for deceased main characters, and promise to assume unknown roles in future story arcs. We are even occasionally reminded of their anonymity by satirical comments made by the major figures. There is a running joke whereby a star will refer to an unknown as "Scott" or "Steve" only to be corrected by someone else who informs him/her that they have gotten it backwards. This little joke reinforces the fact that only the merest bit of the complete story has been told. Conversely, the situation of "unknowns" also results in the sinister introduction of enigmatic plot twists.

It becomes clear that the island was not completely uninhabited when the crash occurred. There are "others" and that amps up the creep factor of the show. By necessity the creators left themselves with ample possibilities to explore. I'm told that the Lost concept was presented with the pilot episode and the series conclusion completely worked out. But it was left to a multitude of writers to fill in the bulk of the show. The open-ended nature of that setup suggests that viewers are in for lots of unexpected discoveries along the way. Whether or not Lost will eventually "jump the shark" is yet to be determined. There is ample opportunity for that to happen. Yet so far I have had a lot of fun with it. There's a good balance of emotional tone, and the concept remains intriguing. I'll let you know when I feel differently.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Jeff said...

Well, as someone who already watched all 3 seasons in 3 marathons (2 with DVD and 1 split between ABC's video and, erm, other creative methods), - you have quite a bit of cool stuff to discover in the series. (And, strangely, it won't be Jack & Kate...!) And the "others" aren't, well, a unitary thing. Nor are the non-others. I could blabber on about unresolved issues in the various storylines for hours. It's a great diversion, similar to the theorizing I did about The Usual Suspects a decade ago.

9:54 PM  
Anonymous jefg said...

I haven't gotten into Lost, having watched but one entire episode in its run. It seems like one of those shows that, having missed the first few, you feel you can't pick up in the middle. Then again, thank god the public library is carrying many complete collections of shows, so there is ample time to catch up.

It's interesting how one's mood affects the series he/she enjoys at any given point in time. Sometimes the best way for me to start watching a show is by someone's referral (which, I believe, is the point of many of your blogs...to stir interest). For some reason, this year has produced (IMO) an unusually large number of interesting shows. Unlike some years ago, no longer do you have to limit yourself to the big three channels to find something of quality. I'm developing some favorites, but I've very recently taken to DVRing a whole bunch of different shows, so I can experience the flavor of each without so much pre-judging. Over the past several seasons, my regulars have been Grey's Anatomy, Six Feet Under, The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm. This year I'm enjoying Journeyman, possibly because I'm in the middle of reading The Time Traveller's Wife.

As an aside, the tv series that a person enjoys regularly might make a very good basis for matching people up. Also, an article on which shows the general public find to be primarily (a) shows for women, (b) shows for men, or (c) shows enjoyed equally by the sexes might make for an interesting study.

Thanks again for the review.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

jeff,

Yeah, I got the sense that Kate's gonna give it up to someone else. But I also get the sense that of Jack gave her the slightest encouragement, she would be ready to go. I'm enjoying the constant revelations, and am now half way through the second season.

1:11 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

jefg,

If you have the time to watch this series (and I believe you do), I think you'll enjoy this. You definitely have to watch them consecutively with a minimum of time in between episodes... but that's what makes it a quality diversion. Once you start watching, you are going to be compelled to continue. Watch it with your loved one, and enjoy whatever accurate premonitions you can muster. This is a fun show.

1:17 AM  

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