Chris Philpott 's Opinion

Chris Philpott is nzherald.co.nz's resident TV expert.

Chris Philpott: There's nothing like Lost

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Ten years on, Chris Philpott reflects on Lost's legacy
It's been ten years since Lost began on television.
It's been ten years since Lost began on television.

My first published work on the subject of television ran in an infamous Christian-right magazine in June 2010 to coincide with the final episodes of Lost, a mysterious sci-fi/fantasy mash-up about plane crash survivors on a desert island that divided viewers like no other show before or since.

The reason for that article: concern that my favourite television show of all time was going to turn in yet another sub-par final episode, following in the footsteps of countless other high profile series.

"As the show counts down to its grand finale," I wrote at the time, "I'm also the guy who has a nagging feeling that he is going to be disappointed."

Like many fans, I was eventually disappointed by the series finale of Lost. The last episode, simply titled The End, brought the majority of the cast together in some kind of alternate universe church that may or may not have been intended as a cross-denominational representation of the afterlife.

It didn't help that it capped off a season that showed promise - several episodes were very well received by critics and fans alike, particularly one late-season episode in which several major characters were killed off - but which ultimately felt disjointed, violently shifting in tone from episode to episode and asking more questions than it tried to answer.

I've been thinking back, rather fondly, about Lost this week, after reading about a cast reunion at the recent Paleyfest television festival in New York. A swath of stars, including Josh Holloway (Sawyer) and Yunjin Kim (Sun), joined showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse to mark the tenth anniversary of the series premiere.

The similarity between the premise of Lost and several theories surrounding Flight 370 also had me thinking about the show, not because one is like the other, but theories about the missing flight certainly evoked the hit show.

Almost ten years on from that premiere - a big budget double episode directed by JJ Abrams that introduced nearly every major character, and laid the foundation for some of the character dynamics that carried through the series' six seasons - I'm starting to wonder if Lost is going to go down as the last show of its kind.

The episodes, even going back to that first season, hold up well after a decade; a year or so ago, I decided to watch the show from the beginning again and my daughter, who was 11 years old at the time, got hooked as well.

After the plethora of low quality imitators that followed in its wake - shows like FlashForward and The Event - we've lost sight of the fact that Lost was a huge show, loaded with great performers playing memorable characters, written to simultaneously leave viewers confounded while forming emotional connections to the cast, and with a visual aesthetic that places it among some of the most well made television of all time.

At its absolute best, Lost is a show that stacks up with the best television of the last two decades; episodes like season two's Man Of Science, Man Of Faith or season four's The Constant deserve to be mentioned alongside the best episodes of Mad Men or The Wire. I don't think Lost was consistently brilliant enough to be "the greatest ever", but it hit that peak at times.

Even my thoughts about the finale have softened. When it aired, The End was a travesty, a confused mess of closure mixed with forced emotional moments. Yet, as more auteuristic forms of television become the standard - Breaking Bad and Vince Gilligan are inextricably linked - I've grown to respect, even admire, that head writers Lindelof and Cuse told the story they wanted to tell, and ended their series the way they felt it needed to end.

I do think, as I mentioned before, that Lost will go down as the last show of its kind. A friend recently asked me what current show bore the closest comparison to Lost, and all I could think of - to my absolute horror - was Once Upon A Time, the fairytale serial that shares writers with Lost, yet seems to get worse with every new season.

American free-to-air networks - like ABC - just aren't taking a chance on the kind of mysterious, heavily serialised story-telling that was a hallmark of Lost's six seasons. Television production is getting more specialised, more niche, and these kind of shows are increasingly moving to cable networks like HBO or AMC, satisfied with smaller, loyal audiences.

Despite all logic, Lost was a mega-hit that drew huge audiences while holding on to some of the traits that make shows like Game Of Thrones or The Walking Dead so enjoyable, so successful. There is no doubt in my mind that, were it put into production today, it would've run for five seasons, around 65 episodes, on a channel like FX or Showtime in the USA.

It might have been a better show that way. Lost was inconsistently good, occasionally suffered from poor characterization, and shifted tone from episode to episode. It caused problems for itself by introducing more storylines than it could possibly hope to resolve, and getting too complicated to placate the giant audiences it was drawing in those first few seasons.

But it was also a show that entertained, that formed a unique bond with its biggest fans, and that was among the greatest television ever made when it was firing on all cylinders. It was a one of a kind, an experience for those who stuck with it for the entirety of its run. Lost is a true original that - due to the talent involved, the circumstances surrounding its development, and the era of its production - is impossible to replicate.

We'll never see another show like it.

I don't think Lost is the greatest show ever made, but it is in my holy trinity of favourite shows of all time, alongside Breaking Bad and The Simpsons. I loved Lost as it aired, and I still love it now.

Like many fans, I looked into the eye of that island, and what I saw was beautiful. And I'll never forget it.

Chris Philpott

Chris Philpott is nzherald.co.nz's resident TV expert.

In a strange way, Chris Philpott has grown up with television: his first big addiction was The X Files, which he watched as a teenager, enthralled by what was possible with the form. Chris’ love of TV grew over the years, parallel to the popularity and quality of serial dramas like The Sopranos, Lost, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. He began writing about TV professionally in 2010, before joining the NZ Herald in late 2013, and considers writing about TV more than a passing interest or hobby: he genuinely loves sharing new series and discussing the big shows with readers. Chris is based in Whangarei, and lives with his wife and daughter. When he isn’t watching television … just kidding, he’s always watching television.

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