Lost premiered 11 years ago. It ended nearly 5 years ago. And I still miss it like crazy.
This doesn’t seem to be a popular opinion these days, as backlash to the underwhelming series finale seems to have overtaken the memory of everything that came before. But backlash has overtaken just about everything in 2015,and the effect on television has been profound. Networks today are more hardened, creators more cautious, and cable TV as a whole more distressingly uninteresting.And that kids is how you end up with 72 annual hours about Naval crime investigation and a half-dozen sitcoms about love that, taken together, are barely worthy of being noticed.
Reconsidering Lost after a decade ought to feel like an exercise in all-encompassing nostalgia. But it doesn’t. In fact, it’s the opposite. Rewatching the premiere, I was floored by how exceptional it is, especially in comparison to the choices on offer on today’s TV.
It’s instantly more vibrant, more alive, more modern than anything else currently on broadcast. From its opening moments, in which Jack opens his eyes to a strange new reality, Lost makes no effort to coddle.On the other hand, it intentionally disorients. When Jack runs through the jungle — always toward the danger rather than away from it — he dares the audience to sprint right alongside him. Though the show was years away from frustrating anyone with its mysteries, this headlong dash into the unknown was prophetic. Nothing would stop Lost from being reckless — not with story, not with ideas, not with time, and certainly not with emotion. Taking the risk, and taking the journey, was what made the show worthwhile, regardless of where things ended up. To paraphrase a great man, sometimes you eat the polar bear, and sometimes the polar bear eats you.
What I remember most about the premiere of Lost was the sheer magnitude of the extravaganza: a man sucked into a 747 turbine, an explosion of smoke and fire, the smoke monster smashing survivors like grapes. But what lingers now is the attention and care given to the quieter scenes: Jack gazing into the impossibly blue Pacific just before the screaming of his fellow survivors reaches his ears; Charlie karaokeing his own hit song; a petrified Kate counting to five. The brilliance of the series lay in these moments, the blanks between the exclamation marks. Even as entire palm trees gave way, the most intriguing aspects of Lost were right in front of us. Where did all these survivors come from? What was the deal with the angry Korean couple, the gentle giant, the creep with the citrus smile? I didn’t just want to know where they were. I wanted to know who they were.
Don’t misunderstand: This is not meant as an apologia for Lost’s ending. I still seethe over the shoddy disposal of key characters like Sun, Jin, and Sayid, I will never stop shaking my head over the Temple (Nor will poor John Hawkes I suppose), and the memory of the final gathering in the church still leaves me stunned. It was the sight of a towering soufflé collapsing, at the final moment, into mushy, unbaked batter. But once I began rewatching the series from the beginning, the lump of disappointment I felt returning to my chest took a different form. As the French Lady’s voice crackled on the radio, with all the Desmonds, Faradays, and Juliets still to come, I realized that I would absolutely submit to the full six seasons yet again, even with the knowledge that the final step would eternally be a bullet to the head. The frustration has changed. I wasn’t upset with what Lost became.What was really upsetting was the fact that nothing ever took its place.
Lost was more than a TV show. It was a sort of shared madness, a delirium that ranged far beyond its regular viewing time.And, as such, it should have heralded a new golden age for TV as a whole.A wholly original multimedia supernova like Lost isn’t easily replicated. But what’s most disheartening today is to see how little anyone seems inclined to try.Like the wreckage of Oceanic 815, its particular blend of wild art and savvy commerce could never be located again.Lost was meant to be an antidote to TV’s slow descent into redundancy. Instead, it helped hasten the patient’s demise.