Sunday, October 22, 2006

The problem with Lost

Warning: this is a very long post.

There are two camps of Lost viewers: those that love the twists and turns and don't mind that each episode usually brings more questions than answers, and those that are frustrated and like to complain about how the show is going nowhere and how ridiculous things are getting. Members of the former group like to tell members of the latter to lighten up and just go along for the ride or just stop watching. Members of the latter group ignore them and continue to watch and complain.

I am definitely a member of the latter group. My complaints started pretty early on, by the end of the first season. My main gripe with the show then was that the show was just too slow moving. Every week I watched and every week I found out pretty much nothing. And I was starting to get a little worried about the direction of the show. There were already too many loose ends, too many things that were shown and then never touched again. I felt like I was being manipulated by the writers, and I didn't really appreciate it. Now I know that storytelling is inherently a form of manipulation, but I think that the best storytelling should at least seem organic. Lost was not feeling organic.

Second season, I decided that I would stick with the show, but I was going to watch it in chunks, a couple of episodes at a time. That way, I'd feel like more was happening. And it kind of worked. Plus the airing schedule last year sucked and people were constantly complaining about how long they would have to wait between episodes. I was spoiled here and there but watching 4 or 5 episodes in a row made me feel like so much was happening! But then around the second half of the season, I was starting to get worried again.

Things were just getting much too complex. I felt like the writers and producers were sitting around the table congratulating themselves for being so clever and shocking the audience once again. I imagined someone going "Oh I came up with this thing that's totally cool and will totally mess with the viewers" and whoever's in charge going "Oh yeah? Throw it in there!" I listened a couple of podcasts and read interviews with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, and they are just way too impressed with themselves.

And after watching the first two episodes of this season, I still feel like the writers are still more interested in being clever and manipulating the audience than actually telling the story. But I've come to the realization that it's not really all the writers' fault. It's a problem with the entire concept of the show.

Those viewers that love the show believe that the writers have everything planned out. But I don't see how that's really possible. Anyone who writes movies or stories or novels will tell you that your story has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. For a movie or a novel, you determine when the end comes. You take however much time or pages you need to tell your story, and then there's the end. But for Lost, the writers don't know when end is going to be. They say they have things planned out for 6 seasons or something but I don't believe them. Maybe they have a basic idea of what they think is going to happen but there's nothing that says they have to stick with it and they really don't know how long the show's going to last. It can depend on the network and the ratings and the producers and the actors and a million other things besides the story. So if the Lost writers really do have the story planned out like they say, they have to be very careful about timing, about when and what they reveal, because they can't run out of story. So instead of being afraid of running out of story, they HAVE to make up more. Hence all the crazy twists and turns.

So I know what you're asking. If this is true, then how can any TV series be successful? There are a lot of answers to that. Shows that mirror real life, like most sitcoms and many traditional dramas, don't have a problem. Life goes on. As long as you have interesting characters, there's plenty of material. Procedural shows (crime, law, medicine, etc) have standalone episodes: the story starts and ends in one episode. And so-called serialized shows like 24 or Buffy generally do season-long arcs, a story that comes to a resolution by the season finale.

But Lost? It's just one really big, really long mystery with no definite end point. And I guess I just can't wrap my mind around that. I can't be confident that the writers are going to tie up all their loose ends. I can't be confident that the ending they supposedly have planned is going to actually be satisfying and make sense. And if it's actually their intention to leave things open-ended and with unsolved mysteries? That just seems like lazy writing to me.

I guess the real question is whether I'm going to keep watching. I probably will, but I probably won't be that invested in it. Meaning yeah, maybe I'll take the other camp's advice and lighten up and go along for the ride. But I still won't be proclaiming the show is brilliant...


jamie said...

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