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5.0 out of 5 stars An absolutely astonishing debut season, May 31, 2005
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This review is from: Lost - The Complete First Season (DVD)
It is too early to state for certain just how good LOST is compared to the great shows in television history, but by the highest possible standards its first season has to stand out as one of the great seasons in the history of the medium. Season One of LOST was not merely good but great television, and not merely great television but great narrative storytelling. But the impact of LOST goes completely beyond its aesthetic success. Along with another show on ABC (albeit one that I do not care for), DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, LOST has managed to cause the prodigiously stupid television execs to realize that there is a huge demand for quality scripted television. After years of an endless string of simply awful reality shows, all of the networks suddenly want shows that are written ahead of time and feature casts of actual actors. Although final schedules have not yet been announced, it looks as if the 2005-2006 season is going to have both a dramatic decrease in reality shows and an increase in scripted shows. The stunning success of LOST has played a major role in this sea change.

We have in recent years seen genre shows that were huge hits with critics and managed to generate a passionate cult following. Probably no show was more critically praised than BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (with hordes of high brow critics preferring it to more respectable hit series like THE SOPRANOS), but at its peak it managed only a small audience. LOST has generated critical praise almost as strong as BUFFY, a core of fans nearly as passionate, but unlike BUFFY managed absolutely stunning ratings. It is one of the few instances in recent television history where what is arguably the best show on TV also managed among the strongest ratings. In fact, LOST would be considered a cult show based on the number of websites that it has inspired and the passion of the fans, except that the ratings instead make it a mainstream hit.

Who would have thought that a series dealing with plane crash survivors on a most unusual island would have been this successful? Before it debuted I remember people joking that it sounded like GILLIGAN'S ISLAND without the humor. But it ended up matching or surpassing the most optimistic expecations, in quality as well as in ratings. The mention of ratings is not gratuitious. So many superb shows have been cancelled in recent years (FIREFLY, WONDERFALLS, DEAD LIKE ME, ANGEL) that there was even a "Save LOST" website started . . . before the show even debuted! Luckily, the ratings have made cancellation seem not only remote but impossible.

It is almost impossible to acknowledge everything that LOST does well in the space allotted here. Above all else, it is a superbly written show, not merely on an episode by episode basis, but in the way all of the episodes mesh with one another. The continuity is the best that I have seen in a long time. For instance, the first time we see one character in the show, she is rubbing her wrist. Later, we learn that she had been a prisoner of a U. S. Marshall and had obviously gotten rid of her handcuffs just before we first met her. Almost any detail like that will be dealt with at a later date. But the scripts are just as strong on character development, humor, excitement, and adventure. I do have a tiny bit of fear about Season Two: former BUFFY and ANGEL writer David Fury, who wrote many of the finest scripts of the year, including "Walkabout," which could very well win Fury an Emmy for best written episode of the year, has left LOST to work this summer on the new FOX series THE INSIDE, before joining 24 as a writer and executive producer.

My initial fear when the show started was that the central cast was perhaps too large, but it turned out to be unjustified, and the great ensemble cast is unquestionably one of the reasons for the show's success.. Yes, there are a lot of characters, and sometimes I wish some were more central than others, but the depth and power of developing the stories of a dozen characters ended up being both unique and exceptionally entertaining. Jack is the titular lead of the show, although show creator J. J. Abrams has confessed that their original idea was to have Jack assume leadership in the first couple of episodes, and then have him die off, forcing the lovely fugitive Kate become the leader for the castaways. But they quickly realized that Matthew Fox's Jack was too valuable a character to toss aside so cavalierly. If there is a second main character, it is Kate, who is performed by a remarkable newcomer, the excruciatingly beautiful Evangeline Lily, who despite virtually no prior experience (I did recently spot her in a very, very tiny role from the first season episode "Kinetic" on SMALLVILLE, where her only task is to kiss her supposed boyfriend). One of the most consistently fascinating characters is John Locke, played by Terry O'Quinn, a veteran television actor familiar to anyone who has seen shows like ALIAS, THE X-FILES, MILLENIUM, and THE WEST WING. Although he has always performed marvelously, LOST has made him a star. Every one of the major characters has his or her own set of fans. Naveen Andrews, for instance, a Londoner of Indian descent, has been a big hit playing Sayid, the former Iraqi soldier, as has Jorge Garcia as Hurley, the obese lottery winner who is as unlucky for others as he is lucky himself. And while Dominic Monaghan shared in the enormous success of THE LORD OF THE RINGS playing one of the Hobbits, he has achieved more individual success as Charlie, the heroin-addicted bass player for the fictional band Driveshaft (one hit wonders famed for their song "You All Everybody"). So rabid are the show's fans that there are websites dedicated to Driveshaft.

Structurally, the narrative shifts between the efforts of the survivors to adapt to and understand the island on which they are marooned and flashbacks that explain the personal history of each character. Some people object to this, wishing instead that they focused exclusively on the events on the island, but I think that this is wrong. If you focused merely on the events on the island, it would be only an adventure story, but through the flashbacks we learn so much about what makes the people tick that the series becomes as much a character study as an adventure. By the end of the season, we get to know the characters so well that we can anticipate how they are going to respond to even the smallest events. We learn very quickly that the island contains a host of mysteries, including invisible monsters whose location and function remain unknown until the end of the season (if we even understand them then), other inhabitants whose intentions seem both sinister and unknown, and a lone insane Frenchwoman named Danielle Rousseau. But there is not much more than we know about the island. Rousseau talks of the Black Rock, but it isn't what we expect when we finally see it. And then there is the metal doorway that Locke discovers in the middle of the jungle. How can it be opened and what lies behind the door? By the end of the season many of the mysteries are explained, but more are left open-ended.

LOST clearly has the potential to be one of the great series in the history of television. The producers are highly ambitious, but so far their execution has matched their aspirations. I read an interview with David Fury before the first episode aired in which he said they had a plot line that runs over several years, so their clearly is a well-conceived storyline. I have only one concern with the show, and that is the executive producer and creator J. J. Abrams. Although he has two prior hit shows, FELICITY and ALIAS, he has had some problems with taking his shows to higher levels. What made BUFFY so extraordinary was that each year they managed to do something new and amazing, even if some fans were disappointed by some directions it headed. But ALIAS has started to disappoint some fans by the fact that it hasn't progressed much beyond what it was in the first season. Instead of doing strikingly new things, Abrams just tends to recycle the same general storyline. And there has not been much of a payoff for all the focus on Ramaldi (for nonfans of ALIAS, a Renaissance genius whose artifacts provide much of the narrative force of the show). Abrams clearly is brilliant at conceiving and initiating great shows, but he has not yet demonstrated that he is a great finisher in the way that Joss Whedon has. I'm forever the optimist, and I believe that Abrams either will come to terms with this or the other creators and executive producers will help LOST get to a place that we will all find satisfying.

Regardless of the future, this nonetheless is one of the most remarkable rookie seasons any television series has ever enjoyed. I'll end with food for thought. THE X-FILES, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, and FARSCAPE, to name just a few shows, were much better in their second and third seasons than their first. What if two years from now we are able to say the same of LOST?
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 17, 2008 1:06:28 PM PDT
Robert Moore says:
Lost vs BSG, what do you, Robert Moore if Chicago, think in the better Sci-fi show?

Posted on Oct 2, 2008 7:54:23 AM PDT
E. Olson says:
An excellent review for an excellent show.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2009 4:31:18 PM PDT
Robert Moore says:
Hah! Sorry Robert Moore (nice name, btw). Didn't see this question until today. I don't often go back and visit my older reviews.

I love LOST and BSG, but I have a slight preference for BSG. Not by a lot, but by a bit. I think BSG has overall had a little better narrative pace. I think the best episodes of BSG are both more numerous and better than the very best episodes of LOST. On the other hand, I think BSG has had more weak episodes than LOST. BSG does both better "big" episodes than LOST and also more subtle episodes. I don't think any episode of LOST has been as good as either "Exodus, Pt. 2" (a big adventure episode) or "Unfinished Business" (a classic "small" episode). Both shows have some great shock moments. LOST moved the island while Kara Thrace finds a Viper with a surprising dead body. I'll say this: no show besides these two have over the past five years had as many shocking moments.

Ultimately, my preference for BSG might hinge on the fact that it has more consistently addressed a certain core group of questions. I'm still not sure what, if any, questions LOST is asking. BSG has a philosophical depth that I think LOST lacks. Still, luckily one doesn't have to love just one. Both are highpoints of my week, though I'm heartbroken that we have only two more weeks of BSG. It appears to be ending magnificently. I just hope that next year LOST ends as well.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 27, 2009 8:48:54 PM PDT
I definitely didn't feel BSG came close to Lost. The cast for Lost is way better for one thing. I thought the Lost story was far better also, cemented back on Earth as opposed to Outer space with AI, etc. I don't think the two can be compared fairly as I don't put them in the same category & definitely BSG isn't even in the same league, in my opinion.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 21, 2009 9:57:22 PM PDT
Robert Moore says:
Well, that is certainly a valid opinion. But not one that I agree with. I certainly don't agree that the cast of LOST is "way better." In fact, I'm not sure anyone on LOST comes up to the level of Edward James Olmos or Mary McDonnell. Though I do think that both shows have deep and talented casts. And I think it is way premature to say that LOST has a better story when we don't even know that the story of LOST will be a good one. As I said, the end of LOST, like the end of BSG, will retroactively qualify the rest of the story. I hope that LOST ends up with a great story. But it wouldn't be impossible for it to be disappointing.

I also very much believe that BSG is a much higher class show. Why? Because I don't think there is the depth to LOST that there is to BSG. I think I have some support for this in the amount of academic writing that the two shows have generated. BSG has been the subject of a vast amount of academic writing. In fact, the only TV series that has been the subject of more books and essays is BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Well, FIREFLY has also generated a huge amount of writing. LOST, on the other hand, has been the subject of relatively little and most of that has been pretty weak. LOST is plot and just about nothing else. It does not contain the wealth of themes and concepts that BSG and BUFFY were rich with. There are shows that have depth and those that do not, and as much as I love LOST, I see very little depth. It certainly isn't in BSG's league in this regard, nor BUFFY's or MAD MEN.

I think the enormous complexity of the plot and story of LOST squeezed out content that would lead to cultural referentiality and political commentary or any of the things that BSG had. BSG raises a world of questions for me that LOST does not. The question of what it means to be a person, for instance, is something that is raised with great subtlety and complexity on BSG. And that, I believe, is why BSG has generated a huge critical literature and LOST has not.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 15, 2011 12:31:07 PM PDT
50's girl says:
Mr. Moore needs to watch "Lost" more than one time to understand it better and to see the multiple layers going in all directions. The first time I watched, I thought it was just going to be another "action" show, but i continued because of the beautiful scenery and liked seeing some good looking actors for a change. I liked season two as well, but season 3 I felt was somewhat mixed up - but I did not give up, I felt that if it was such a huge hit there was something I was missing. I kept on through season six and I have now seen "Lost" 6 times all the way through, always discovering another aspect I had missed (concentrate on the different spiritual beliefs for example - all kinds of faiths represented). Then the profound changes in character of the survivors - all were sort of misfits in the beginning but eventually found their "destiny" as Terry McQuinn frequently said. I have also watched "Lost" another 3 times selectively for those episodes that particularly interested me. I liked the supernatural aspects, the bright light in the center of the island which must never go out, the scientific discussion of electro-magnetic power etc. I think it is a classic tv series that has no equal. I have tried to find another tv series which is even somewhat similar but have given up. "Lost" has the perfect combination of story and writing, actors and characters, scenery, and "voice."

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 2, 2012 9:37:25 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 2, 2012 9:38:03 PM PST
G. Kline says:
I got into LOST a little late in the game. I started out in the beginning but abandoned it somewhere in Season 3. It all just seemed like nonsense, like the writers were trying to decide on what LOST is really all about while simultaneously producing it. In fact, some episodes where delivered on air just days after editing was complete (they ran behind a number of times). Season 5 pulled me back, though.

I wasn't happy with how this series ended. I thought the first two seasons were great but then it all took a really weird turn that wandered so far off the original path. Season 5 seemed to be heading in the right direction, explaining things, making some sense of it all... and then Season 6 went out of control. I wanted answers, like John Locke shouted in the beginning, and wasn't getting any... instead more complexity, more questions.

But I knew a satisfying ending wasn't coming. The writers and producers were well aware of "The Prisoner" and how it made a phenomenally unique impact on the audience back in the 1960's. They were seeking to repeat the same thing in a different context. And they did.

What changed my mind was watching the series again. It's really more about the journey, not the destination. There are so many terrific interpersonal moments throughout the series. It touches on real human issues, with very real feeling people. Those are the gold nuggets of the series. The ending isn't tidy and complete. But then, life in our world isn't either. And that's what the series was really all about. Human life.

Posted on Jul 23, 2014 3:11:28 AM PDT
mao_soup says:
One example of an awesome reference and why I love this show.


In the episode where Boone and Locke go looking for Claire, Boone is tying red pieces of cloth so they can find they're way back to camp (never mind that they only have like a shirt's worth and are hiking miles into the jungle, lol). Boone tells Locke how the red shirt they are tearing for the cloth reminds him of the red shirts in Star Trek who always died when they were on away missions with the captain. Locke says "sounds like a p!ss-poor captain." Many years earlier, Terry O'Quinn played a captain on Star Trek: The Next Generation (S7:12 The Pegasus) who lost his crew by his poor captaining. More important than this nod, is the ironic way in which this simple and easily-forgotten line plays out in the show as Locke tries to assume a leadership role.
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