Monday, August 09, 2010

30 Day TV Challenge - Day 4: "It only ends once. Everything that comes before is just progress."

4. Your favorite show ever.
You're shocked, I'm sure.

(How about we try to get through this without spoilers?)

I've talked about it incessantly. I've written about it incessantly. Some part of me -- the part that likes to be unpredictable -- thought about tossing a curveball here and not going with the painfully obvious, but who are we kidding? The prompt is blunt and to the point, and so I should be: Lost is my favorite show ever. And since a number of these prompts ask you to write about your favorite show -- I'm counting five or six appearances for Lost over the next thirty days -- you should buckle up.

Trying to summarize Lost comes across as stupid, really, because reducing it to its barest essentials -- "It's about the survivors of a plane crash on a deserted island" -- misses the point entirely. Lost is a show about the power and fragility of faith, the lure of the mysterious, the importance of learning from our mistakes so not to repeat them, guilt and redemption, the meaning of life and death, the collision of the spiritual mind and the scientific, whether people -- on their own or as a society -- are capable of rising above their selfish and vain interests and working for good, and the nature of good and evil (and how maybe they're not as different as we think). Lost is about taking a step back from our narrow perspective and seeing our place on the timeline of history -- all that came before us, and all that will come after us. That everything matters, whether we know it or understand it, and that each and every choice we make, each and every person we meet, affects the rest of our lives and the lives of others in ways we are often unable to comprehend. It was about everything.

And the survivors of a plane crash on a deserted island. Also: polar bears.

Lost is incredible enough on its own, of course: six magnificent seasons of gripping, revolutionary television. But it's more than that to me -- the community that sprang up around the show was almost as much fun. The fan-created podcasts (I'm a Jay and Jack Podcast fan, myself), the endless message boards, the three-thousand word essays dissecting forty-second scenes from four-year-old episodes -- the show felt alive, somehow, a growing entity that spread beyond the hour a week it aired. And unlike Star Trek, which I always felt kept its fans at arm's length*, the creators of Lost fully embraced that community, welcoming it and adding to it, giving fans a wonderful give-and-take that only endeared us to them more. They gave us elaborate panels and sketches at conventions, they gave us internet-only episodes, they published tie-in novels and video games -- hell, even the official jigsaw puzzles were canonical.

Of course, I'm this far in and I haven't really explained why I liked it so much. And that's because I can't. Which is not to say it's a mystery; it's to say that every answer to that question feels incomplete. I loved everything about this show -- even when it screwed up, it screwed up in a way that was fascinating, somehow. I loved the writing, I loved the characters and the actors, I loved the directing and the music, I loved the fluid nature of the storytelling and the way the show insisted on defying convention and expectation at every turn. I loved the way it confronted the Big Questions about life, the universe and everything; but I also loved the way it examined the smaller problems, the problems we all have in life. It's pretty hard to believe one could look at a story filled with Smoke Monsters and magical islands and say, "I can relate to that," but that's what Lost did.

And, finally: it was just flat-out entertaining. The mysteries were dense (some would say obtuse), but I never really got that sinking X-Files feeling, the feeling that the writers had climbed up their own asses and lost the way. (I almost got that feeling. Once. For a week during the third season, between the episodes "Stranger in a Strange Land" and "Tricia Tanaka Is Dead," I got worried. But it passed. And I was rewarded.) I've loved a lot of shows, but none have made the impact that Lost did on me, and I doubt any show will do it again. It changed the way I look at television -- I have a feeling I'll be looking for a show to effect me on all levels like Lost did for a long, long time.

I feel, somehow, that I need to defend the show -- the internet turned on it, and turned hard, towards the end, and its final episode unleashed an ocean of hate. I know the endless cries of "They left so much unanswered," and I could respond. I could tell you that, in fact, almost nothing was left (entirely) unexplained, and the gaps in the story had far more to do with the unfortunate realities of creating a television series than they did with poor writing or bad choices. But I won't -- I don't think Lost needs a defender. Because the show speaks for itself. Like any epic story worth the time, it rewards the patient and the observant. The central conflict of the show for most of its run was that of Faith vs. Reason, and in the end, the show came down on the side of...neither. The world is what you make of it, however you choose to engage it, and you just have to try to do the best you can. As it is with Lost: if you want to devour each episode and break down all of the clues and hints and foreshadowing and references, that's there for you. If you just watch it for the gripping story, that's there for you, too.

It's funny. It's stunning. It's action-packed. It's moving. It's science-fiction. It was romance. It was adventure story. It's buddy comedy. It's tragedy. It's parable. It's methodical. It's spiritual. It's contemplative. It's classic. It's post-modern. It was the last great show of the Old Media; it was the first great show of the New Media.

It was Lost. My favorite show ever.

*By that I don't mean the actors -- I mean the producers and executives, the big-wigs, who always seemed (at least to me, as a young fan) to be dismissive and confused by the Trekkies, and even their attempts to reach out felt unabashedly mercenary. Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof hosted an almost-weekly podcast on Lost, inviting and responding directly to fan questions and criticism with honesty, openness and aplomb. I cannot see Brannon Braga or Rick Berman ever doing something like that, can you?

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