We are currently feasting in the golden age of television. Incredible original series are being created on the now many different mediums to watch content. It was just 20 years ago when most people only watched formulaic sitcoms and crime shows on network TV and the few who had HBO were able to consume the appetizers of the 4 course meal that is the greatest era in TV history.
It is my ignorant and Wikipedia informed opinion that the golden age of TV began with The Sopranos which aired on HBO from 1999 – 2007. The first wave of high quality TV included HBO staples like The Sopranos and The Wire (2002 – 2008), and a network TV show that aired on ABC from 2004 thru 2010 called Lost. These loosely formed generations of TV bleed into each other a bit but we can all agree that from 1999 to 2006 there was a massive increase in the quality of TV shows.
Lost isn’t on the same level of The Sopranos or The Wire, but as a network TV show it was the first of its kind. A character driven drama filled with mystery, thrilling adventure, science fiction, and romantic relationships. As a fat 14 year old I watched the premier of Lost with my mom as both of us were enamored with stories of survival. I had read The Hatchet series by Gary Paulsen and the My Side of the Mountain series by Jean Craighead George which combined positively with a fascination with the wilderness. A show about survivors of a plane crash on a deserted island is something we had interest in.
We were hooked from the first episode. The pilot of Lost, appropriately named “Pilot” was like watching a movie. The cinematography, the traumatic and frantic plane crash site, introduction of characters, and the reveal of the smoke monster was a hell of a way to start a show (reportedly the Pilot cost $14 million to make). I watched Lost with my mom never missing an episode for 4 plus years but I never made it to the conclusion. I started to miss episodes frequently and lost (get it) interest in the show at the beginning of season 5.
Lost aired during the beginning of the modern internet generation. As a sheltered kid living in the sticks I was a late bloomer when it came to technology so I wasn’t on the internet message boards discussion theories or reading articles, but I did do the equivalent verbally with my family and friends. There were a few times after watching a particularly thought provoking episode that I called my cousin over a land line to discuss and share our ideas on what transpired. Even though I wasn’t on the verging internet I still felt the communal aspect of Lost that so many people remember fondly.
One thing that was discarded in the evolution of TV was the week long break between episodes. The ability to binge 10 episodes at a time and on demand is superior to watching seasons drawn out over 6 months that air at a set time designed to sell products via commercials. Those long breaks in between episodes added to the enjoyment of shows like Lost. With so many plot gaps and unknowns, that week allowed viewers to share their thoughts and opinions which generated more excitement for the next installment. I and many others in today’s culture wait for a season to be completed before watching allowing the ability to binge. That eliminates individual episode discussion with friends and has transformed into is a season by season, or entire series discussion.
The cryptic mysterious story telling of Lost was probably its greatest attribute in drawing attention and maintaining the interest in the show for such a long time. It also aided in the downfall of the show as it increased in its ambiguity over time becoming inhibitive in its abstractness. Lost became a victim of its longevity. Being a network TV show, the network cashed in ruining the integrity of the plot and running the well way past dry. Spanning 6 seasons and 121 episodes was 40 episodes too many.
The TV shows that are considered to be all-time greats didn’t reach the triple digits in total number of episodes. The Sopranos which was a season too long had 86, Breaking Bad had 62, The Wire had 60, and going into its final season Game of Thrones has 70. An even better evolution in the TV landscape are mini-series that only span a short 6 to 10 episode run (Generation Kill, True Detective, Show Me a Hero). There is a fine line between having an expansive in depth story and diluting the series with filler episodes and unnecessary story arcs. Lost was an original character driven drama that was treated like CSI or Everybody Loves Raymond with 20 plus episode seasons. It was treated like the shows it stood apart from and belonged in the hands of HBO, Showtime, or cable networks like AMC.
It was obvious to everyone that the creators of Lost only had one or two seasons developed. They then expanded the universe after the success of the show and ABC ordered more seasons, forcing them to make it up as they went along. The writing and production was still well done, but by the 5th season the absurdity of the plot reached a breaking point.
I remember the specific episode when I stopped caring when the show aired on TV. Ben Linus spun some weird wheel that physically moved the island and forced it into a time traveling aftershock. I was done. If they could move the island the whole time, what was the point?
As a young teenager I enjoyed Lost for the characters and the survival, not for the super natural elements. One of the main complaints my mom and I had about the show is that “it was too weird.” Now that I am older and can appreciate the originality and uniqueness of super natural phenomenon’s, I enjoyed them more on a second watch through as an adult. The show got “weird” a lot earlier than I remember as it went into some heavy science fiction areas in the first season.
The cast grew significantly in size as the show progressed, most of which was filled with likeable and well thought out characters. The main cast consisted of Jack Shepard, Sawyer (James Ford), Kate Austin, John Locke, Hurley (Hugo Reyes), Sayid Jarrah, Claire Littleton, Charlie Pace, and Sun and Jin Kwon. Many other characters were added and taken from the plot but these 10 are the series staples.
The characters are developed via flash backs, flash forwards, and in the final season, flash sideways. Most of these are well done and told in an non-chronological style forcing the viewer to put pieces together which was half of the fun of the show.
After watching Lost on Netflix I believe it can be described as 25% mystery, 25% thriller, 25% science fiction, and 25% soap opera. It is a fairly well balanced show preventing fatigue from the Jack, Kate, Sawyer love triangle, inter fighting between factions of the camp, battles with the others, and the strange forces that surround the island.
Lost began as a drama involving characters lost on an island who were also lost in their personal lives. Trying to be found and rescued required the characters to find their true selves. That was the main corny theme of the show but it involved many more including science vs. faith, black vs. white, good vs. evil, dualism, and many more which were incorporated subtly into the show.
It was a miracle that the ending of Lost was never spoiled for me, or if it was I forgot. All I knew is that most of the people I know were disappointed with the ending. It wasn’t as bad as I expected but it wasn’t spectacular either. Jack died after saving his friends and the island and went to heaven.
That’s it. So many questions were left unanswered. What happened to Walt and his powers? The whispers are people in purgatory? The numbers aren’t a curse? Why did the cabin move from place to place with an ash circle? How did the Dharma Initiative find the island? What sickness was everyone afraid of? Why do women who get pregnant on the island die?
The show ended in a church with the cast sending Jack into heaven which felt like a “wrap party” for the series that was turned into a final scene. I don’t think the characters were dead the whole time like much of the internet, but I do share the “so what was the point?” unsatisfactory feeling. The plane crashed on a weird island that keeps evil out of the world and the survivors of the plane kept the island that way despite the evil’s best efforts in escaping and corrupting the survivors. All of the numbers, the hatch, the Dharma Initiative, the freighter, time travel, the shrine, it was all just filler made up of dead end mysteries and unanswered questions. I guess any show can be described in a similar way but Lost had a massive 6 year build up to a stale fart of an ending.
Lost isn’t perfect. It was a transition show to the main course of the meal that we are all currently eating in this golden age of television. Everyone in their life should get lost in Lost to appreciate its place in the history of TV.