Clive Bradley reviews Lost, Wednesdays, Channel Four
Contemporary American television drama often has an ambition and scale which less than a decade ago would have been thought impossible, more suited for cinema — and which dwarfs anything attempted on this side of the Atlantic. Lost has both ambition and scale.
A plane crashes en route from Australia to the United States, stranding its survivors on an inhabited island, where gradually they realise no rescue is coming, and that in addition to the expected difficulties of finding food and water and getting along with each other, they must deal with a mysterious and apparently supernatural beast.
It’s pretty exciting and gripping stuff. The first night of it, not content with two hours on terrestrial TV, I switched to E4 for the next episode, and could happily have watched more. You can’t really say fairer than that.
There are only a few films I would watch for three hours or more, but there are several television series in the past few years that can keep me glued, quite literally, for days. (I recently saw the whole of Season Three of Six Feet Under back to back. Marvellous stuff).
I think this shows what is possible in television drama, how involving it can be to get to know characters over many hours, how interesting it is when you don’t have to be introduced to everything and every one all at once — and how stimulating it can be for the writers when they have all that time to play with. Lost, on the whole, is very well-written. (I note that one of the producers was previously involved in one of my favourite shows ever, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and its spin off, Angel).
There is much about Lost which is, of course, ridiculous. The passengers were all, as a friend of mine noted, travelling Gorgeous Class (apart from the comedy Very Overweight Guy). The pregnant woman is far too pregnant to be allowed to get on a plane. The Korean couple are a stereotype (though I’m inclined to think one which will eventually be exploded, as that seems to be one of the show’s features). It would seem that every single passenger has some impossibly dark secret in their past, from which they were running away. Hunky lead Doctor Jack (Matthew Fox) has Issues with his dead father (you know, Dad very demanding, couldn’t show love).
But it has sustained, so far, its frenetic energy very well, and the plot twists are genuinely intriguing. There are already websites devoted to discussing what the mysteries all mean. Are they really dead and in Limbo? Is the monster some Jurassic nuclear test thingy?
I’m inclined to agree with Nancy Banks Smith in the Guardian, that if the monster turns out to be their collective Id, it could get nasty.
The crashing plane, clearly, resonates with something powerful, almost elemental, in American and western culture post 9/11. To its credit, I think, Lost doesn’t try to say anything too directly about that event or its aftermath. Instead, it mines more general modern anxieties.
On one level it’s just Lord of the Flies with grown-ups, though I suspect with a less misanthropic conclusion about the nature of humanity. This is resolutely mainstream television drama. Like the also phenomenally successful Desperate Housewives, Lost is made by network television — as opposed to most of the recent high quality series (The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Oz, which were made by HBO).
But mainstream, even commercial television can be arresting and enjoyable, and for my money Lost succeeds on that score.