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Monday, 14 January 2008

Lost, in Transition

You know where I came across the pilot episode of Lost? The one with the graphic plane crash and everything? It was part of the in-flight entertainment on a Virgin Atlantic service to the US. I mean, it didn't bother me, but, you know...

Apparently eight episodes of the new season were shot before the WGA strike closed down production. The ABC network has indicated that they'll be shown rather than held back, but hasn't yet said when.

Season three ended in a cliffhanger that neatly flipped the show on its head and refreshed the premise, which I thought was no mean feat. Lost is a show that plays a risky game; tantalise and satisfy but while tantalising more, on and on, with continuous invention and a continuing danger of viewer burnout. Just like on a plane ride, viewers can bale out in mid-flight but there's little-to-no chance of picking up new ones.

We baled early, but only because we found its form of transmission (5 breaks, ignoring the designated act endings, with the same sponsor bumpers repeated with throw-the-remote regularity) unwatchable, and so bought the US complete-season box set and watched that at times of our own choosing.

I'm not saying that Lost is the best thing ever, but when it's good, I do like it. It plays like a feuilleton - constant invention and distraction with the sense of a Big Scheme even though the big scheme itself can only have a vague shape in the creators' minds, and is being defined in the writing rather than designed in advance. And with the sense that anybody could fall into a volcano at any time.

(I know what they've said. That everything's been planned all along. Arse. Even the guys who sold 24 didn't know what was going to happen until they were into production.)

For me it can never end successfully with a make-sense-of-it-all revelation, any more than The Prisoner could... it's all about dread and uncertainty and wondering about what's on the other side of the door. As Stephen King points out in Danse Macabre, the moment you actually open the door all that wonder condenses down into whatever's there.

The only good ending I can imagine is s something like, they find a box that's the answer to everything, look inside it and go "Wow." Like the moment in Lost in Translation where Bill Murray whispers something to Scarlett Johannsen that makes everything OK, and we all have ideas about what it might have been that are unique to ourselves, and which are best not shared. Some people won't have that... a quick Lost in Translation Google shows messageboards with people wanting tips on how they can boost the soundtrack enough to hear what Murray says.

In the meantime I'll endure the dull touchy-feely stuff and bad dialogue ("You okay?" "I was looking for you." "Well, you found me.") for the high-concept elements I'm getting a kick out of, and a trust in the astuteness of makers who know to throw in a good kit-off moment or a bit of mud-wrestling when everything flags.

But this business with the box set permanently altered our attitude to series TV. It's been a liberation. Now disc is our first-choice viewing medium, something I could never have imagined.

5 comments:

Carlo C. said...

I was going to post a comment, but it was getting too long, so I just wrote a blog post instead. :P
www.carloconda.blogspot.com

Stephen Gallagher said...

I've checked out Carlo's post... a nice survey of some of the subtler web-weaving by Cuse, Lindelof & Co.

My theory is that Kate knew all along that they were going to crash on a beach.

I mean, who boards a long-haul flight in a thong?

Carlo C. said...

"who boards a long-haul flight in a thong?"

The love interest, silly.
Haha


I wish I could remember the fine details of what I wrote on my blog post, but I haven't immersed myself into Lost since rewatching season 1 and half of season 2 after the Season 3 finale aired.
But, like I said, ask me whatever questions you may have.

Piers said...

I have a strong suspicion that before the box-set market matured we'd never have seen heavily-serialised shows like Lost and 24 in the first place.

Although they do OK on first showings, the ratings on syndication are way down compared to procedurals - probably due to the fact that you can't just drop in and out.

Carlo C. said...

Hey Steve, I wrote a small, yet crucial, update to my 'Lost in Lost' post that I thought you'd be itnerested in. It gives you some links to where you can dwelve in the mysteries behind one of the coolest mysteries in Lost - the whispers & hidden audio.