Sunday, February 24, 2013

I Hate Lost

Lost is considered by many people to be in the pantheon of great television shows. Its ambitious portrayal of a diverse group of people that are in a plane and then not in a plane and then almost in an airplane, and then in an entirely different plane and in a different plane of existence and then actually they were still in the first plane the whole time but dead now was well-received by both audiences and critics. Mystery, suspense, religious symbolism, action, love, laughter, livin' and dyin': Lost had it all. But beneath its veneer of dirt makeup realfantasie, there's a lot of stale air. Compelling in the first four seasons, the hour-long drama quickly dived into the the kiddie pool of storylines only to find its spinal column shattered by the sheer force of gravitas it laid upon itself. 

I hate Lost

I came from a whitebread family, so I know white people TV when I see it. Despite the fact that I consider film to be superior to television in almost every way*, I spent more time in front of a TV than a movie screen. When I was a kid, primetime television was rarely subversive, dangerous, thought-provoking, or genuinely funny, but it was a dumb old friend. I'm not sure when I recognized this about television, but I know that I gravitated towards shows like Ren and Stimpy, The Simpsons, late 80's/early 90's episodes of Saturday Night Live, and Mr. Show. These shows were the spice to the safe programming to which I was exposed. Shows like Alf, Full House, and Family Matters were filler until I could get to the good stuff. Unfortunately, there was too much filler and I began to distrust and discount television as an intelligent or creative medium for entertainment.

Because of this, I fell out of the cultural loop. By the turn of the millennium, I was invested in DVD's of shows I used to love and movies that challenged me artistically and philosophically, but rarely did I follow current programming. Friends and CSI was popular at the time, I think. I hated laugh tracks and I highly distrusted television drama. It wasn't until I started watching my friend's DVD of the first season of Arrested Development that I really started to feel differently about television. I was too late to catch it every week when it aired on Fox, but I became a sponge for the antics of the Bluth family.

Before I moved to Korea, I noticed a lot of my friends were interested in a show called Lost. I was able to watch a couple episodes, but it didn't really stick because there was no context. It wasn't until my last year in Korea (four years later) that my friend (the same one who owned the Arrested Development DVDs) informed me of his love of Lost. I respect this person's opinion greatly when it comes to art, so I decided to give it a shot.

The trouble with being 8 years behind the start of a behemoth series like Lost is that watching can become tedious. Sometimes I watched two or three episodes a night, and sometimes I went weeks between viewings. I was able to finish it by the winter of 2012. 

I'm a fair person, so when I criticize something, I need to start with the positive. It seems more constructive that way, and there are things that Lost got right. As I mentioned earlier, the first four seasons of the show are pretty immersive. They're smart. They don't give away too much, and the characters seem compelling. I appreciated the focus on an individual character's backstory and how that backstory leads them to the conflict they find themselves in on the island. 

The setting and scenery are beautiful. To be honest, I was actually excited to see how it would all turn out, and yet a glossy sheen is coated over almost every scene. That's not to say the show glistens, but like every whitebread show, there is a plasticity in the camera that somehow makes dirt pretty.

The characters that I liked depended greatly on the actors playing them. I liked Desmond, Hurley, Charlie, and Sun, because not only did they have rich and complex histories, but the actors playing them were smart enough to not force their emotions. Whether they laughed, cried, or had freakouts, I believed them. If you perhaps think I'm being unfair to the women of the show, please feel free to scroll back up to the picture of the character Kate. If that doesn't satisfy you, then just check out the range of the actress playing Juliet.


It could very well be that I'm biased against blonde actresses with crystal blue eyes. I can't stand Cameron Diaz, either. If we were to compare these two ladies' acting abilities to the personalities and physical traits of, say, sea creatures, then Elizabeth Mitchell's Juliet would be the jellyfish to Cameron Diaz's yelping dolphin. Throughout the series, Juliet approaches problems with the ferocity of a sofa, looking extremely high while doing it. She is also guilty of something a lot of actors on this show are guilty of: tears-in-voice. 

For those who don't know, "tears-in-voice" is what an unqualified actor does when he or she can't find an emotional connection to the script or situation and takes the easy way out. Instead of actually crying, an actor will sound like they're on the verge of crying. "Tears-in-voice" is usually accompanied by the face one makes when they're constipated. Elizabeth Mitchell resorts to this technique a lot, but I guess it's hard to find a real emotional connection to something sad when you have no soul. Take that, robots.

I know I'm picking on this particular character a lot, but her introduction marks, for me at least, the decline of the show. I could easily pick on other actors for a multitude of other things.

So let me do that.

Jack is played by Matthew Fox and though this particular actor doesn't resort to "tears-in-voice" as much, his "hero-with-a-broken-heart" routine gets tiresome. The male lead I have the most trouble with in Lost is that of the guy that plays Sawyer. I'm not going to even bother looking up his name. His gruff, conniving manner, womanizing, and bouts of abusive anger are charming at first, but his approach is ham-fisted. It was about halfway through the series that I realized I had seen this kind of acting before: 

And yet the acting isn't the most disappointing facet of this series. 

The pacing of Lost is hit or miss, too. When I think back to the series, I don't think of the witty dialogue, or the camera work, or the scenery. I think of people's faces. That's probably because a lot of camera time is devoted to the expressions of the actors. There's a lot of looking in this show. A lot of pensive looking. "Hey guys! We need the audience to know that Juliet is thinking! Cut to her face!" or "Hey guys! Sawyer's seething about something! Get a close up! Now hoooold it. Hoooooooooold it. Bam! Lost drum-gong noise and roll end credits! God, I love this job! Hup! All out of cocaine! Let's burn the American flag!" is what I imagine the producers saying all the time (or at least when they're out of cocaine).

And yet, not even the pacing is the worst thing about that show.

This is what is:

In the first episode of the Lost, an airplane crashes into an island. As I calmly watched characters frantically race around, dodge propellers, and engage in medical procedures, I thought, "You know...I bet they're all already dead. God, that would suck if I was right." And you know what? I was right. They were already dead. It did indeed suck.

The ending of any piece of art or entertainment is just as important as the beginning. It's what gives a work its closure and ultimately its message. I know television is a different animal than a feature-length film, and the ending of a series is guided not just by the writers' imaginations, but also by external forces on a show (network executives, actor availability and skill, etc.). Case in point: Twin Peaks had a brilliant run through the first half of the second season. But because the network executives had decided the killer of Laura Palmer should be revealed, the last half suffered greatly. 

If there's at least one thing Shakespeare has taught us, it's that an easy way to end a drama is to kill everyone off. Bam. Done. Hamlet's over. Go home. Lots of writers use this device. Tarantino used it in Reservoir Dogs (if you count Mr. Pink possibly getting himself involved in a shootout after he swipes the money). In television, it's an easy way for writers to get rid of a character. It's lazy, but it works.

Unfortunately, write lazy. Take a show like St. Elsewhere, which ends with an autistic boy looking into a snow globe housing the hospital from the series, makes the whole show appear to have been a fantasy. Dallas is another example. Patrick Duffy's character gets killed off. Fans disapprove. Producers bring him back in the 9th season with the "it was all just a dream" device. Not only is this the laziest form of resolution, but it insults the viewing audience. 

Lost's big reveal is that everyone was dead the whole time. That the island was a purgatory of sorts, a holding place until the dead were able to handle their own mortality, and while that does sound kinda good on paper, it's such a letdown to see it put into practice. Why go through all that trouble for such a simple reveal? Yes, characters do change a bit from season to season, sometimes in one episode, but why kill them off twice? Why drag the dead out of their watery grave so we can watch them die again and then be told they were really just dead the whole time. How does that reward the viewer? It doesn't. It snatches away the time and thought the audience invested in the show and replaces them with a variation of lazy writing. 

After having thought long and hard about all this, I have to ask myself, "Would I have watched the show knowing what I know about the ending?" In cases like Arrested Development, the answer is a resounding "Yes!" I can come back to the DVDs time and time again because I feel rewarded. It's the same with Breaking Bad, because even though the show isn't over yet (OH GOD 8 MORE EPISODES), I have complete faith in Vince Gilligan and his ability to get a show where it needs to be. But with Lost, it's a deflated, "No." I wouldn't have spent so much time invested in these characters if I had known they were dead the whole time. 

Would you?

No comments: