Over the years there have been culture phenomena I’ve avoided for various reasons. It could be as fickle as my mood, the presence of Eric Robert’s Ugly Sister (or ERUS, as Justin coined), or the fact that I just missed the entry point before the culture became saturated by the book, TV, or film series. In “Better Late Than Never,” I look past my objections to see if the culture was right or wrong to embrace the phenomenon so strongly.
Title: “Lost” Season One
Airdates: September 22, 2004 – May 25, 2005
Objection: ABC held a special screening of the “Lost” pilot at Comic-Con in 2004. I was still going at as a fan of geeky media at the time and I skipped what is now a memorable screening because of one reason: J.J. Abrams. For reasons no longer clear to me, I found any Abrams produced stuff to be unwatchable. I may have found “Felicity” unpalatable. It may have been the pilot of “Alias.” It may have been his penchant for going in unprepared and winging it. Whatever the reason, I avoided his output. When friends of mine came back the screening, they began evangelizing the concept, the actors, and Abrams.
That only made me resist it more. Keep in mind, I have that habit. That’s the whole point of this column.
Season One: The pilot is a great opener for one reason: its pace. I was genuinely shocked two hours had passed when it was over. The speed at which information comes out at you is surprising. Back before the Hatch, the Dharma Initiative, and the other mysteries you had a plane crash, a bunch of people you didn’t like, and a polar bear. Oh, and the first hint of the smoke monster, but I digress.
With that opening two hours behind me, I quickly hit play on the first regular episode. Letting it unspool, I started to solidify my opinions of the principle cast: Jack is boring, Kate is not nearly as cool as the show thinks she is, and Sawyer is not the best at what he does. This would generally sink a series for me if not for the next tier of characters. Hurley, Locke, Sayid, Claire, Jin, Sun, Charlie, and Locke all interest me enough to suffer through the most boring romantic triangle in nighttime television.
And, I guess as “Lost” fans have known for years, Locke is particularly amazing. His flashback have the most pathos in them and they are, really, the biggest change of state for a character on the Island.
This is the key thing about coming into season one so late. I know about so many of the mysteries, that those questions do not intrigue as much as the on-going developments of the second tier characters. I’m with them when storms come, planes crash, and hatches are found. I feel for Locke when the island takes away his ability to walk. I’m with Hurley when he fears Charlie will die just because they’re friends. I’m with Claire because she’s adorable.
Under no circumstances am I with Shannon. Ever.
Now, let’s talks about flashbacks. While I like the season and the majority of the characters, I often found the flashbacks to be … cartoonish. This is best exemplified in the case of Michael’s flashback story. In that episode, we see he and his wife grow apart for reasons that are never really clear. She moves away, prevents Michael from having a relationship with his son WAAAAALT!!! (I understand this is the official spelling). The problem here: Michael’s lack of ambition, failed job prospects, or whatever are never clearly defined. If Michael had a drug problem, then his wife leaving makes sense. If he was an artist and his way of life clashed with her more buttoned down corporate outlook, it makes sense. If it is just a simple blue color/white color thing, it makes sense. None of these are either presented or established. So, instead, Michael’s wife comes off as a cartoon villain, twirling her expensive hair-do as she asks Michael to give up all custodial rights to WAAAAALT!!
This is also true of Sun’s father, the Federal Marshal hunting Kate, the guys in Locke’s office and so on. In some episodes, it is not as noticeable and the individual actors help hide the often simplistic worldview of the show. I think it is more obvious in Michael’ story because the writers are reluctant to spell out the character’s true flaws. In one of the special features on the Season One DVD, the creators said the show should feel like any of the characters could be the star of their own show and the flashbacks give us a look at those separate series. While that might be the intent, I don’t think the execution is all there.
Verdict: With that said, the first Season of “Lost” does it’s key job: it kept me intrigued. I grew to like enough characters that their jeopardies and histories mattered to me. It actually is the show everyone told me it would be and I absolutely would’ve enjoyed it at the time it aired. It hints at plenty of things, but offers first and foremost enjoyable characters that react to weirdness in their own unique ways. At this point in the game, though, with Locke looking down the Hatch, I’m told the second season is a will-breaker. With the advantage of DVD, will the legendary bad writing of that season break my spirit or will I survive to continue?
That’s the cliffhanger, cue the music sting and fade to black.