A friend of mine in Los Angeles -- I'm withholding her name to spare her hate mail from Lost geeks, whose capacity for bile surpasses their actual numbers by a factor of about a million -- just sent me a note:
I never followed Lost. But last night, some friends had a finale viewing party, and I thought I'd go so I could watch both the finale and the retrospective to at least get an overview of characters, plot points, catchphrases, etc.
Well! Apparently I missed "the greatest show in the history of television," "the best known television show in the world," "the show that forever changed how television drama is written!"
What I saw was a mishmash of cliched characters, everything but the kitchen sink plotting, see it coming from a mile away "poignant" deaths, "ethnic diversity" in which nearly all the significant characters are white and the hero is a classically handsome white man and the black father and son have completely disappeared, "spirituality" that would sound superficial coming from a 14-year-old, a surprise ending you could figure out 30 minutes in, and oh yes, lots of people bloody and screaming.
Yet watching that for six years left a 22 year old guy at the viewing party sobbing at the ending. And me getting chewed out by the 38-year-old host for not understanding how profoundly important all this dreck was in the HISTORY OF TELEVISION.
Wow, OMG, what did I miss? 'Cause, frankly, on a good week, I think Gossip Girl has a better insight into human nature. I kept feeling that everybody at the party was confusing complexity with profundity -- sure, you could bring all your liberal arts education to bear on Lost and try to find philosophy in it, but to me it felt more like, "We'll just throw whatever shit we can brainstorm onto the screen and let the viewers have at it."
I wonder how much this has to do with age? There was, shall we say, something of a gap between me and most of the guests. Is Lost something that seems profound, original, moving, etc., etc., if you haven't watched the last 30 years of television, 'cause you weren't, you know, like born? Am I, as I was accused of being by the host, "arrogant, jaded and cynical"? Yes, for sure to the last two, but I was stung by the first. Your thoughts?
Here's my reply.
The insanely inflated hype for Lost the past few weeks has been a part of why I couldn't stand the show anymore, but only a part.
When Lost started out, it was a terrific show. The premise (a bunch of people stranded on a desert island with mysterious and somewhat threatening properties) and the stories (as flashbacks filled you in on the characters, each one turned out to be carrying sinister secrets) -- were utterly intriguing. The execution was excellent; even with all the flashbacks, Lost maintained a clear narrative line. The first season was excellent, the second and third, very good.
But the show began running downhill abruptly during the fifth season and was downright unwatchable by the sixth. It increasingly relied on gimmicks (time travel and alternate universes) that left the narrative hopelessly confused and the characterizations meaningless, since it was impossible to remember what world or year you were watching, and which characters might have been possessed by evil spirits. The show became self-consciously portentous, every action and word and even name imbued with multiple layers of symbolism and metaphor. Plot lines shot off in multiple directions, most of them ending in useless cul-de-sacs. Worse of all was the self-importance of the fangeeks, who bragged that they influenced the show's direction. If they did, it was certainly not to their intellectual credit, or that of the writers, either. Imagine Van Gogh painting in front of a studio audience, adding elements and colors in response to shout suggestions from drunken morons in the bleachers.
As for remaking television, horsebleep. Shows were using elliptical storytelling years before Lost came along. (Ever hear of Twin Peaks?) Heavily serialized storytelling goes back even further, to the prime-time soaps of the late 1970s. And I almost choked this morning when I saw a critic on a news show claiming that the relationship between social media and Lost was a technological first. There's way more Internet traffic about American Idol and Dancing With The Stars than about Lost.
The Lost finale drew 13.5 million viewers, a miserable flop for a show so heavily promoted. Compare that to M*A*S*H''s 105 million. Yes, that was a different era, the three-channel universe, but that's the point: As a media phenomenon, Lost was a lesser example from a lesser age. (The Friends finale, competing in its same zillion-channel era, drew more than twice as many viewers.) The bottom line is that the show outlasted both the creative juices of its creators and the interest of its viewers. You didn't miss a thing.