I was very skeptical. Friends keep telling me that I must see it, that even my jaded opinion of television and my annoyance at the medium’s hollow artifices would be mollified by this series.

Well, I have at last seen the first few episodes of Lost and I can happily report that, from what I’ve seen, this television show cuts the mustard in almost every way. It is as enchanting as a baroque tapestry. It is as beguiling as a James Ellroy novel. It is, one gets the sense, leading somewhere, which is a rarity on episodic television. By some miracle, Lost does not insult the intelligence of its viewers and it even has the audacity to reward those who are paying attention. People are not what they seem to be. The setting is not what it seems to be. The situation, indeed, is not what it seems to be. One is left delighted by the confusion, driven compulsively to watch more, wondering what details the writers will throw in next.

Lost is one part Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, one part The Prisoner, one part Cast Away, and several parts a parable of humanism and interconnectivity. To wit, it may very well fall into that rarest of categories: sui generis.

In particular, one episode revealing the origins of Locke, a mysterious man with a penchant for knives and a capacious threshold of history and obscure trivia, was, much to my surprise, a moving tale of surprise revelations and indomnitable will. We see early on a young middle manager’s cruelty and agism directed to Locke, and realize much later that it is something more atavistic and unpleasant, yet ultimately futile. That television is still capable of exploring such human complexity, that indeed Hollywood is still capable of doing this, is nothing less than a miracle in this epoch of braindead entertainment designed for mass consumption.

This is that rare series that threatens to draw me away from my work and that may keep me up late. Let us hope that Lost‘s success finally gives the programming heads some clue that if television is to survive, it must, like Lost, be nurtured.

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  1. I agree with you. It’s an excellent show and very addictive. Lost is one of the few TV shows that we – my husband, myself, and our two teenage sons – enjoy watching together.

  2. Glad to hear you’ve enjoyed the show. I’m not much for tv, but Lost isn’t much like any other tv show out there. I’m shocked that its on network television and not one of those pay channels where I can’t get to it.

    4 8 15 16 23 42, etc. etc.

  3. This is a very accurate description of early Lost, that is the first half of the first season. The episode you mentioned, about Locke, is, in my opinion, probably the finest of the series’ entire run, but for the first 12 hours or so of its existence the entire show was very much as you describe it – an intricate tapestry of character exploration, beguiling mystery, and intriguing interconnectedness.

    Unfortunately, and as the second half of the first season demonstrates, you give the writers too much credit when you suppose that they know where they’re taking their story. Towards the end of the first season, the show had all but given up its nuanced character exploration, and the plot had ground to halt, the writers choosing to compound questions rather than answer them.

    It’s a sad commentary on what overwhelming popularity can do to a good television series. The final episodes of Lost’s first season, and the two that have opened its second, move at a snail’s pace, repeat themselves, and tell us things about the characters we don’t need or want to know, just to make up the required 45 minutes. It’s also becoming obvious that the writers have painted themselves into a corner – they don’t know what the answers to the questions they’ve posed are, and nothing they can come up with could possibly justify all the build-up they’ve put us through.

    If you’re looking for truly novelistic television, I suggest you take a look at Veronica Mars (currently competing for Lost’s timeslot). It’s an intelligent, well-characterized detective drama, pure jet-black noir masquerading as candy-colored Nancy Drew. Like early Lost, it demands the viewers’ attention and rewards their loyalty, but unlike the more popular show, it delivers on its promises – a wholly satisfying and thrilling conclusion to the season-long mystery. The first season should be available on DVD in the next few weeks.

  4. I’m not in agreement with Abigail on the more recent Lost episodes. I think there is clearly “someplace they are going” in the show. Like most TV I can’t imagine everything is planned out (TV offers too many possibilities for change than any too detailed plan can fall to the fate of actors leaving, episodes being cancelled, budget problems, etc.), but clearly they are going somewhere.

    There has been much repetition recently, but it is used to mostly worthwhile effect.

    In one sense the show is about the interconnectedness of society.

    But I do agree with Abigail that Veronica Mars is an excellent show, though it does suffer from the occasional lame fill-in episode.

    If you want really fascinating TV, Ed, take a gander at Deadwood.

  5. I certainly hope you’re right, Derik, but whenever I allow myself to hope so there’s one little word that manages to sow doubt in my heart: Alias.

    The illusion of profundity is a very easy one to create, so long as no one insists of taking a look behind the curtain. Simply sprinkle in constant references to numbers, cryptic comments about various capitalized objects or people (The Others, The Black Rock, The Hatch), and mysterious non-sequiturs (“are you him?”), and let the natural human tendency towards pattern recognition do the rest. J.J. Abrams has done it before, and from interviews with him, it seems he’s doing it again with Lost.

  6. Abigail: I’ve joked with my good friend Tom Working about this, but nearly every interesting television series that deals with fantasy and adventure relies on some continuous yet mysterious story arc referred to as “The _____.” In Brisco County‘s case, it was “The Orb.” In Smallville‘s case, it’s “The Cave.” In The X-Files‘ case, it was “The Oil” or “The Gulag” (I don’t know what the vernacular the fanboys agree upon) and “The Conspiracy.” And in Lost‘s case, it’s “The Others.” Now I am not very far into the series, but I think that even if “The Others” exists as a recurring reminder of the dangers and cheesy mystique of the island and it’s NOT planned out, even if this storyline results in something silly, causing Lost to jump the shark like the rest of them, I still believe that inevitably the series will find its course and deal with the more presing issue: how can human beings who are hiding so many secrets and who are not what they seem work together to (a) uncover the mysteries of the island, (b) get off the island and (c) learn more about humanity in the process. I believe there is a larger framework here at work that is more seminal of 21st century life: namely, how the characters manage to find faith in each other and trust each other in a world of danger and uncertainty.

    Keep in mind that nearly every episodic tale needs some recurring mystique as a reference point. It could be Don Quixote’s windmills or the threat of poverty in Dickens’ work. Whether good or bad, I think that “The ________” works in favor for both the writers and the audience. It is perhaps more of an atmospheric concern and perhaps it is wholly contrived. So i do not blame the writers and I am fully prepared to see this inevitable element fail. It’s not the most pivotal reason to be interested in the series, yet it is essential as a reference point. As Darby said above, the island is Laura Palmer.

  7. Brisco County? People told me to forget about it. Forget about it? You mean rip it from my memory like a picture from a book? A picture of a small boy, kind of shy, with big ears who only wanted to be liked. And the laughing faces of his classmates, mocking him because he forgot to wear his pants to school? Is that what you mean? I loved that show!

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