Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I Once Was Found But Now Am Lost (in a good way)

There's life...and there's TV. And while those two things generally mesh together nicely in my little world, sometimes life supersedes and I'm unable to climb on board a new series when it begins.

I missed the plane when the TV series Lost started its run four years ago. And by the time I was finally able to give it a whirl I quickly became 'lost', as they say, and stopped trying.

Until this past summer.

I kept hearing good buzz and, quite frankly, was missing a dose of twisty-turny sci-fi 'big' mystery TV in my viewing diet. There hadn't really been anything of that ilk 'finding' me since the days of The X Files and Buffy and Angel. This wretch needed some saving.

So I dived in head first and screened all of Season 1 and half of Season 2 on disc whilst out at the cottage. I liked it. Liked it quite a bit actually. Even the kids got into the show and all of its serialized mystery addictiveness. I kinda drifted through the rest of Season Two during the fall...and then in December it was a dvd marathon through Seasons 3 and 4.

I've since discovered the plethora of show fansites out there on the internets, all quite swollen with analysis and theories and predictions...and concluded that pretty much any thoughts I might have about the show have been expressed already.

But I do want to say two things.

1) McGrath and John August both wrote about this recently...that as consumers of film/TV we want something familiar and comfortable, but want that something to also feel new or original. Lost accomplishes that feat in spades. It gives us fans of The X Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or BSG our cool sci-fi/paranormal fix without feeling like we're watching something we've already seen before (see Fringe, Eleventh Hour, Supernatural). I know how the Lost boys got where they got was pretty wacky ('Survivor' meets 'Castaway' meets 'Lord of the Flies'), but still...the end result is four kinds of awesome.

2) The show has balls. They proved it at the end of Season 3 by messing with their tried and true formula, when already a hit. That is, taking their episode story model of intercutting the adventures of the survivors on the island with a 'flashback' story (usually focusing on one of the primary island survivors), and bringing a game changer to the table by introducing 'flash forwards' to a time of life after the island for six of the survivors.

I would've loved to have been in the writers room when the story department came up with that one.

Now anyone who follows the show more closely than I might inform me that this was always part of the series gameplan...but I'd call bullshit. If that had been on all the writers minds right off the top, there's no no NO way they would've held off using flash forwards for nearly three entire seasons...66 friggin' way.

Because its too cool a move. It'd take just way much discipline and dedication not to play that card whenever you felt the show might be growing a little repetitive or stale or what have you...(like middle of Season 2 or beginning of Season 3).

No I say they were well into it all, probably end of Season 2, and spinning and riffing and bickering and bantering and perhaps someone in the room said: "So, does anyone get off the island or not?"...and someone else said, "Of course some of them do." And someone else said, "Well who? And what would that be like for them?" And then someone else jumped up and exclaimed, "What if we showed life after the island for some of our characters, but treated as if it was a flashback, until we revealed it was actually the future...and...and...


I know that's what I would've said....because the coolness of that idea and the story possibilities it held would be immediately apparent.


For me, that moment, whenever it happened, encapsulates the fun and thrill and excitement and pleasure of working in a story department with a team of smart, clever, passionate people writing for a long-running TV series. You'd have had to be there to truly appreciate what the Lost boys experienced, but having played the TV game for a long time, I can certainly imagine how sweet it was.

Crashing ahead to the here and now, and not to get all spoileree, but the Chicago Tribune's Maureen Ryan has a long Q&A HERE with showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse...and HERE Alan Sepinwall previews the new season. And in this recent interview with Lindelof and Cuse they discuss their writing process and hint at the audience having to get used to a new form of narrative story-telling in Season 5:
Cartlon Cuse: Our approach to the story telling changed drastically once we were able to negotiate an end date to the show. Before that we didn't know if the mythology had to last two seasons or seven seasons. Once we knew there were only going to be 48 eps of the show left we were able to start charting out the remaining journey. We approach it on three levels.

First we have discussions about the uber-mythology and plant the big landmark events in rough locations. Then at the end of each season we have a writer's mini camp where we discuss the arc of the upcoming season in great detail. Then we break each individual episode and see where we end up at the end of each break.

Followed by:

Cartlon Cuse: We actually TRY and jump the shark all the time. The last thing we want to do is feel like the show is falling into a tired paradigm. In fact this season we start out with a new narrative approach. Not the now traditional flashbacks or flash forwards. We always are trying to keep the storytelling surprising.
The game's changing again. Excellent.

Lost Season 5 begins on ABC sweet that sounds.


Mef said...

I'm with you Will. I didn't watch Lost until last January ( I had seen the odd episode in the first season out of sequence and context) and I like it.

I think watching on DVD mitigates some of the disappointments of having to wait for a clifhhanger and then being underwhelmed.

I wonder how much I will like the show given that I will have to wait a week or sometimes weeks for the conclusion of a plotline.

And I loved that twist at the end of Season 3 when she got out of the car...


Lee said...

I'm going to have to wait until after the fact with Lost. The mid season two slump saw me off, but I keep hearing how much focus the show's gained since setting its expiry date.

I can feel a marathon coming on when the show's done.

wcdixon said...

Mef! Lee!!

It's like a blogger reunion of sorts.

Yeah I hear both of you...I could've easily seen myself losing interest during the 2nd season. And I'll try to stick with new eps this winter, but after having been spoiled by dvd's, who knows.

M said...

Its weird to see DVD save TV. I don't think this should be the case. We see the cliffhanger ending too often and I feel let down when I see shows that do that (unless its a special 2 part episode). I never got into lost despite being a big X-Phile. In fact I have started watching season one this week so I can work my way up to the new movie. The one thing I noticed is that the X-files is more structured and although seeing extra episodes is helpful it is not necessary. I see the closest thing to X-files now a days is House. Teams working together while there is some opposition within ranks, both leads are extremely educated and magically know everything on a whim and the show story lines are similar as in some thing strange happens, we see credits, there is a bunch of possibilities for an outcome and in the end our lead character is right.

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