***There are some minor spoilers in this review, although nothing that will give away plotline twists.***Sometimes a series comes along that transcends what is “cool”, allowing a whole family demographic to watch without reprimand from their peers. Sometimes a series creates or redefines a genre. Sometimes a series does both.
All of such musing brings me to Lost.
Lost is like a modern day version of Gilligan's Island with less comedy and more polar bears: After a terrible plane crash forty eight survivors are left stranded on an island, presumably in the south west Pacific. There are no signs of modern day civilisation and if a briefly coherent, or indeed alive, pilot is to be believed the survivors are all of 1000 miles away from their correct course. How will these survivors hope to survive without their cell phones, or their family or anything other than a sandy beach and a pile of aircraft shrapnel? Who will become leader? Where will water be found? What happens when the food runs out and just what is that huge creature that likes eating people? Bleak times indeed and that's before the “weird stuff” starts to happen.
Lost is a tour de force in allowing the viewer's own prejudices to trick themselves into thinking a situation must be true. This is a very difficult thing to pull of without appearing to be too clever, or loosing the characterisation and heart of a story. Lost manages this task with some style, with Walkabout in particular being one of the best reveals of this kind I have seen on any medium. I think this is mostly because of the rather simplistic characters that are used, which allows us to think we know what is going on. In actuality, the writers are far too clever for that, throwing a spanner into the works just as we become comfortable with the status quo. Let's take the character of Sawyer (Josh Holloway). He is from the southern US states, has a surely disposition, is out to make as much money as he can no matter the cost and thinks that just because someone is an Iraqi he must be a terrorist. Remind you of a certain political figure? Yet by the time you are a third of the way through the series, you realise it is you that are making the assumptions, it is you that is willing the medicine to be found “no matter the cost”. Very clever writing indeed.
It isn't just clever writing that saves Lost from the mediocrity of some sci-fi programming like Mysterious Island. People who would rather bathe in marmite than watch anything vaguely sci-fi or weird convince themselves that Lost is worth watching without loosing face. Why? Because Lost is a character driven piece that uses the unknown to sharply contrast with the survivor's own personal dilemmas. Why remember there is a great hulking thing out there when a burgeoning interest between Charlie Pace (Dominic Monaghan) and Claire Littlejohn (Emilie de Ravin) is brewing? The whole plot structure of Lost is engineered to hide the overly unnatural elements under a veneer of almost soap opera social interactions. These relationships are handled with far more care and believability than normal sci-fi viewing. Whereas in something like Voyager, the political and social aims are very plain so as to deal with them within a one hour episode, Lost intertwines moral and personal choices with the story in a far more organic manner. Actions taken by the survivors have repercussions beyond the episode in which they happen. Hatreds and friendships alike begin to flourish, certain characters sticking together while rebounding off others. In other words there is no magic solution to personal differences, or the lack of water, or to persuade someone to get an inhaler. Choices have to be made, no matter the consequences, and sometimes these choices are from the darker side of their psyche. Even when something blatantly weird happens, there is something that grounds the effect. When a massive “thing” makes itself heard on the island, one character states “Is it a dinosaur?”
“No,” is the reply.
“Why?” the questioner asks of the second person.
“Because dinosaurs are extinct.”
This rather pithy riposte is as much to discharge the emerging thought processes of the survivors as it is a warning to the viewers that Lost's writers aren't going to fall into cliché's anytime soon.
Of course, coming from the creator of Alias, these darker plot twists are to be expected. J.J. Abrams is to be commended in figuring out another well balanced, well produced series that has a wide audience appeal. The actual production values are sky high, matching many a big budget (read: Castaway) movie. No expense is spared, be it SFX or acting talent. In fact, I should mention that there isn't a single bad actor in any of the cast. Normally, with such a large ensemble there will be stronger and weaker characters, the latter drifting into a supporting role. In Lost, every single one of the people involves produces stellar performances. Look out for Terry O'Quinn's marvellous, touching, sense of wonderment in Walkabout or Dominic Monaghan overcoming his sense of self failure in The Moth. Even the direction is dynamic, feeling much more akin to big screen than small - especially the kinetic Abrams directed Pilot.
Just as an aside, Lost does away with the, in my opinion, that most utterly useless of TV staples: the title sequence. Just how much time is wasted over a season showing the same titles over and again? In Lost, a very short, say 6 seconds, series title effect goes by and that's it. The rest of the titles appear discretely at the bottom of the screen as the all important story continues. Nice one, that.
Lost, in a nutshell, is a very, very good series.