Thursday, May 20, 2010

Where "Lost" went wrong

Mike Hale had a nice piece today in The New York Times about Lost. It's a show I've watched every episode of but have never written about, perhaps because I felt there wasn't much there there. Hale feels more or less the same way about seasons two through six, but he manages to wax pretty eloquent anyway. He assesses the series unmercifully:
The show had one good season, its first. It was very, very good — as good as anything on television at the time — but none of the seasons since have approached that level, and the current sixth season, rushed, muddled and dull, has been the weakest.
I don't agree that only the first season was good, but it's true that the last has been awful. Lost is the kind of network show that's just edgy enough to make you feel okay about watching it, but conventional enough to become, ultimately, a soothing addiction. That's what network series are about, by and large: addicting you and keeping you hooked. Shows like Firefly and Freaks and Geeks weren't designed to drive viewers away, but they eschewed enough creaky TV tropes to actually make you think, feel, etc. beyond the usual network level. Hence: canceled.

I'm not cynical about all television, but networks make themselves very hard to like. Lost is like an airport paperback: entertaining, but without a soul -- by design. The show was mostly about plot, except when it paused, briefly, to be about character. As Hale mentions, only a few of the island's denizens truly managed to distinguish themselves:
(With a few exceptions, notably Terry O'Quinn, as Locke, and Henry Ian Cusick, as Desmond, the performances have been undistinguished since the first season, which may have as much to do with the conception of the characters as with the actors themselves.)
I did enjoy Michael Emerson as Ben and Elizabeth Mitchell as Juliet, and I think Hale is remiss to leave them out. However, there's little question in my mind that Lost is -- again, by design -- much ado about almost nothing. I doubt the show's creators knew where they wanted it to go when they crafted that remarkable first season. That's relevant, despite what Hale says, because their lack of overarching vision is what led to the disaster of a season we diehards are suffering through now. Hale hits exactly the right note at the end of his article:
The mood among many of the show’s followers as they confront Sunday’s finale seems to be a mixture of regret and relief. Whatever happens to Jack and Kate and Sawyer on Sunday night, we’re getting off the island.
As Sawyer might say, it's about time we all kiss that damn rock goodbye.

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