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i'm lost
but please don't lose me completely
by dan gonzalez
10.8.04
television

I peer at the image, looking at the blurry Spanish. Several probable words stand out, but I can't quite figure out the voice and the verb tenses. Why didn't I study more? Can this even be a clue? Could anyone have spotted it in real time or only a geek who paused his DVR to peer at it? Am I violating some unwritten screen-sleuth rule by using technology external to the form to attempt to decipher future plot developments?

Such is the effect that ABC's Lost has had on me. Excitement, a departure from typical T.V. doldrums, a desire to watch again. It is not unprecedented: I had a similar obsession with Twin Peaks. Then again, with Profiler. Most recently, there was 24. Others have not affected me at all: I was too underwhelmed with The Sopranos to stick with it. Friends always annoyed me, except for Courtney Cox's wardrobe on certain occasions. Somehow, with the headlights on, I could tolerate the jokes better.

Perhaps what I should be puzzling out, instead of where the writers' are going, is where am I going? How long will it last? How long will I be lost in Lost?

In the case of Peaks, I think I lasted 6 episodes, not including the pilot. With Profiler, I'd say 7 or 8. With 24, five episodes. (In that case, 5 eps equaled a measly 5 hours of story time! I couldn't even last half a day with those people!)

I think that is the question, how long before it loses me? The pessimist in me says history repeats. The optimist in me says that it's possible for multiple seasons. The realist says I'll be lucky to get one satisfying season, and although I'll wish it would end there, the producers will beat the horse as long as the ratings get them ad money, and I'll end up hating it.

When I was younger and snobbier, I wrote this off on the pitfalls of TV production. The creators, being the original writers and directors, never stuck with the shows. Instead they passed it off to others who, talented or not, did not share the birthright to the original vision and struggled to continue to evoke it. In the case of Twin Peaks, I quit watching when my favorite boob-tube viewing companion, my wife, turned to me and said "They're outright screwing with us, now." She was right, but was it because of them, or our expectations?

Because I am a mere lay-critic who lacks any kind of formal knowledge in film or tv criticism, I can't knock the creators with terms like foundation, character development, triangulation, motivation, etc. The second string of creators of those previous shows may have done a bang-up job in all areas and I wouldn't know. All I can say is, at some point the spirit of these shows vanishes on me. I'd like to say something smarmy like it's because my willing suspension of disbelief has been abused, or that character identification has become unfathomable, or that dramatic tension has become slack, but all I can really say is that the shows all give up the ghost at some point or another.

So maybe, then, it is just a case that my expectations are too high for Lost, like many other shows. It could be that I want it to do something no other show has done, even something that no TV show can really do. I really hate to say that, because futility always defeats potential in the end, and this show does have potential.

The biggest strike I've seem from the TV literati is that it is somehow boring. I don't mind this, though, because I think it makes for a better long haul. Patience, I think, is worth it to allow them to pace it well.

The kudos, though, are all in areas which give a viewer hope. It has a large cast, which seems reasonably talented but does not have a genuine A-playing star, playing diverse characters. It has a very constrained settings not unlike a stage play, those being a plane and an island, yet the scale of the island is completely unknown.

It has, at least, three entities on which to expand person vs. environment conflicts, numerous opportunities for person vs. person, and possibly limitless possibilities for person vs. themselves.

Perhaps best of all, it has echoes of many favorite books and movies, which in turn have given rise to rampant speculation on my part and of many others'. Many have noted the sense of the "Lost World" milieu, as seen in Lost Horizon and Journey to the Center of the Earth, and which Jurassic Park played on. Many have noted the "ordinary people challenged by good and evil" parallels to Stephen King's The Stand, his last fine piece of work in my mind, and it's relationship to other King pieces like The Talisman and The Dark Tower. Many have noted the purgatorial undertones, ala Jacobs Ladder. My personal favorite, because of course, it is my own as far as I know, is a nostalgia for the somewhat obscure C.S. Friedman's Black Sun Rising in which subconscious fears and whims could be wrought incarnate, willingly or otherwise.

As intrigued as I, and apparently many others are by the possibilities, I have a great fear of the potential triteness of them all. Perhaps I'm asking too much, but I see this show as a much needed offset to the horrendous lack of imagination that reality TV has inspired. I want it to work. I want a decent piece of fiction on TV that doesn't celebrate the banal: I'm tired of scientists, peering in microscopes, infinitesimally pondering the underlying details of our crassest behaviors, our crimes, while inhabiting the drabbest of our settings, the crime scene and the lab.

I'll admit, I have a fondness for the Romance proper over the Novel proper. Give me an adventure - spiritual, mental or physical - over a character study. Give me subtle allegory spiked with symbolism, in lieu of painstakingly detailed realism. I'll take Odysseus over Oedipus, Quixote over El Cid. The only time the Romance fails is when the characters are not mortal enough, the allegory bludgeons the viewer, and the symbols, like the damnable fans in Angel Heart, belabor the predicament.

I think Lost can do this, but it is walking a fine line. I hope I don't find out too soon, at any rate, before the first season finale. If I'm not still watching then, it has failed or I have failed again.


ABOUT DAN GONZALEZ

Maybe it's you, maybe it's Dan. Things aren't quite the way they should be. And now it seems Dan's peace of mind has come up for the bidding, and those that he respects and trusts must all have been just kidding. Dan's little world has lost control, but still it keeps on spinnin'...

more about dan gonzalez




COMMENTS

tracey kelley
10.12.04 @ 9:58a

Ya know, I still haven't watched this, and don't know if I will. Somehow, nothing in the new fall lineup has attracted me.

I'm saving hope for the (last?) season of West Wing, and the 2nd season of Carnivale.

jael mchenry
10.12.04 @ 10:15a

I fricking love this show. Really excited about it. Despite the fact that it's on ABC, I'm hoping it'll at least last the whole season.

Wednesdays at 8, kids!

mike julianelle
10.12.04 @ 10:58a

It's doing well in the ratings, and supposedly ABC has a new strategy of supporting their critically acclaimed shows. Huzzah! That said, I don't know how strong this would be going into a second and third season. It could end up becoming too Incredible Hulk or X-Files, where they ALMOST get off the island or figure it out, and then don't. Over and over. One season might be perfect.

russ carr
10.12.04 @ 11:08a

Some people are actually cranky that the most recent (third) episode of Lost didn't give any payoffs with regard to some of its lead characters and the mysteries surrounding them.

Crass fools! Must you spoil everything for everyone else by your impatience?

The biggest thing that sucks me in with Lost is the fact that it's all playing out in relative secrecy. I don't know any spoilers about upcoming shows, and the episodes themselves are extremely tight. Yes, there are clues screaming out of practically every scene, little things to be gleaned about the characters and their motivations. But then again, the same is true for life in general. Everyone sends off those kinds of signals. The catch is, the characters in most shows don't have those quirks, those secrets and idiosyncracies which make them more than mere cariacatures.

Lost is a good mystery, and while I'm grooving on it now, I hope for its sake that it doesn't go beyond this season. An extended mini-series. I like JJ Abrams' stuff on Alias, but I'm not sure that the limited locale is enough to sustain the show for a second season, and certainly not a third. The time scale is just wrong for it. As it is, the series now seems to be running at a 24-like pace; a clip from the upcoming fourth episode has a character declaring, "It's been four days (since the crash)." Where does that leave us after a month on the island...or a year? SKIPPER! Better to keep things tight and end it clean rather than risk running too long -- as 24 has -- and diluting a great show and an excellent premise.

mike julianelle
10.12.04 @ 11:12a

I agree. But I believe there are only 13 eps this season. So a second season of 13 eps would be good, I think.

jael mchenry
10.12.04 @ 11:26a

Two years would be fine for me, if they can keep up the quality. But yeah, after that, it starts to get repetitive (everyone has hooked up with everyone else) and you know they can't introduce new characters, or at least not more than once.

Harlem Globetrotters, anyone?

robert melos
10.17.04 @ 12:46a

Four is the magic season for good syndication reruns. I've only seen the pilot, and missed the next two. ABC did rebroadcast the pilot on a Saturday night. I'd like to see them do that with a few more eps so I can catch up.



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