Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Island Beckons

Tomorrow, the fifth season premiere of LOST will air. Now, I have borne my testimony to many about the greatness of this show, and many of you even have your own testimonies of this truth. I just want to take this moment while I am in the biggest of LOST moods, to discuss why I am so grateful for this show.

Tyler and I have seen a lot of television. When you have a Tivo, it allows you to quickly sample through a lot a crap in hopes of finding something that is worth watching. As a result, we probably watch or are at least very familiar with more television programs than the average person. We aren't, however, very big TV fans. When it comes to deeming what is a "good show" or not, we are pretty harsh judges. Even if we watch something, we probably have a lot to say about it as far as criticisms go. LOST, however, has been a show that for 4 seasons, has never let us down, nor given us any reason to criticize. Of course, there have been a few minor doubts or concerns, just as there is in just about anything in life, but LOST has always come through strongly in any little tiff we may have had, making us more in love than we were before the lover's quarrel. Right now, I just want to write about why I think LOST is one of the greatest television shows ever made.

The creators of LOST hold their show to a very high standard. The show excels in ways that other TV shows don't, and the strict quality control permeates throughout all aspects of production:

The Script: Always very solid. Textual clues to plot elements in the show are not repeated unnecessarily, forcing the viewer to pay attention. The script uses a lot of pop-culture references and intertextuality from books, television, movies, art, religion, folklore, philosophy, history, etc. Lines are not repeated after commercial breaks for those with such a short term memory that they cannot remember parts of the show that happened 3 minutes beforehand. The characters maintain a consistency through their dialogue. Overly explanatory or expositional lines are rarely included. This makes LOST's writing stand heads above other TV dramas, and are some of my biggest complaints when watching other programs.

Cinematography/Production Design: The entire show is done very cinematically. It is filmed more accurately/specifically than television normally is, focusing on the artistic aspect of shots. The production design is also quite impressive. The attention to detail is very evident, and continuity errors are few and very far between. Since the entire show is filmed in Hawaii, the fact that scenes realistically take place in Australia, Korea, Iraq, LA, Tunisia, England, etc. is quite impressive. The design has a consistent "look" to it that is very engaging and leads you to believe in the world of the Dharma Initiative and "Mystery Frickin' Island." As a scenic designer, the commitment to quality in this aspect is very much appreciated.

Character: The show revolves around its characters. Each character has a clear arc, with many interlacing and affecting one another. The characters are consistent throughout. They don't usually act without a decipherable motive or without reason for the possible lack of one. Their stories are engaging and dramatic without being too outrageous and unseemly (we will forget about the episode "Stranger in a Strange Land"). The characters do follow some stereotypes, but become archetypal instead of stereotypical. (The difference being that stereotypical is transparent, predictable, and 2-dimensional, whereas archetypal is familiar, yet 3-dimensional.) I have seen so many shows whose characters I do not care about at all. On the contrary, the depth of character exploration in LOST, blurs the lines between "good guy" and "bad guy," forcing me to care about each one individually (Except for Keamy. He is only evil.). Both the writers and actors deserve credit for the excellence in this aspect.

Story: The quality character arcs lead to a great story. There has been continuity throughout all 4 seasons so far, and I have confidence that the creators will bring it home to a conclusion for the end of the series (Season 6). This huge story that they have been telling us is extremely complex, but consistent, as they unravel the thousands of details they would like to tell us as part of this experience. The information is told in a very coherent way, as long as one is willing to watch each episode from beginning to end and mull over the information between episodes and seasons. They relay the information through carefully crafted story arcs present in each episode, character, season, and so far, series. The complexity has led some to complain that there is "just so much," that the story just gets "so convoluted." This implies a lack of clarity in the focus of the show. I disagree with this notion. I do accept that the show has extremely involved and far-reaching story lines that weave in and out of one another, but I have always felt that it very clearly directs the viewer what to focus on at what time. I feel that its complexity only enhances its substantiality and appreciate the responsibility the show puts on me to pay attention and draw conclusions.

Admittedly, LOST unashamedly requires a lot from its audience. It does not spoonfeed connections to one. It will not routinely reiterate clues it so delicately puts in. The team knows that fans will be watching the episodes again and again online, on their Tivos, on DVD, etc., searching for more, and they will enjoy being able to pick up on things they didn't notice before. It demands the full attention of its audience. I am ready to do that, and believe it is worthy of that attention. It gives to me what so many television shows before it could not.

I have talked to many people who do not care for the show. They don't appreciate it like I do. They don't like feeling obligated to watched every episode. They have trouble remembering every little detail in order to make the connections necessary to feel engaged. They have many reasons why LOST does not cater to them. That is okay. It may not be the TV show for them. It is fortunate that there are many TV shows that will give them exactly what they are wanting from TV. In that same spirit, I am so glad that there is something different out there for me, who is looking for a show to give and require a little bit more.

There are only two seasons left of LOST. This decision between the creators and producers is a great comfort to me. They have been planning from the beginning of the show to end at that time, solidified the contractual agreement to do so, and now have the creative freedom to tell the story that they desire. I am ready to hold on until the end, very confident in the story they are telling. I trust in LOST.