Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Things They Never Say In 'Lost'

"Hey, this is kinda like that time I did something very different, and yet emotionally similar..."

"Anyone think we should sit down and talk about all the weird stuff that's going on?"

"Isn't it funny how we keep having conversations when we don't like each other....and yet I never chat to most of the other 40+ crash victims on the island?"

So, a few quick points about a show that's half joyous, and half utter toss.

I just watched back the pilot episode of Firefly - a flawed start to an amazing series - and check out the character! By end of play, I get them all. Some I have backstory for, some I don't, but where I don't have it...I generally don't need it. What made most of these people is written in their actions, their existence.

And while I loved finding out how this disparate bunch got together...I never questioned it. I never watched thinking 'Sure, but I don't buy that they all ended up on the same ship."

So - Lost.

Let's be clear here - the island mystery surrounding Lost is glorious. Not always amazingly written, but painstakingly plotted and generally thrilling. A drip-feed of revelations that, in retrospect, will seem cheap and tedious, but for now works a treat.

But the flashbacks...Ye gods, the flashbacks! They make me want to take an electric drill to my forehead.

In the last season and a half, we have seen the following shocking revelations:

* The couple who are married...met, once, and fell in love.

* The wife of said couple, who has a difficult, bullied relationship with her husband...once seriously considered leaving him.

* The guy who lost his son in a custody battle...found that separation difficult.

* The single, pregnant girl...wasn't sure she wanted to keep the baby after all.

* The doctor who married his patient...once fell in love with his patient.

* The fat guy had a bad case of unrequited love for someone thinner.

...and so on. Let me know when any of these comes as a shocking revelation worth 50% of any given episode.

Now here's the thing: this is not the fault of the flashback in general. It can be a great device (please see Firefly: Out of Gas, also referenced above.) And in one single, solitary episode, the flashbacks actually worked to tell an emotional story. It was 'Walkabout', the fourth episode of the series.

That's one. Once. And they do these things every bloody week!

I ask you - if Doctor Who's Tardis-based stories didn't work for a series and a half, wouldn't the writers re-think? If CSI's extreme-close-ups failed to tell the tale right, wouldn't the producers have dropped them, reformatted, or at least taken a long hard look at how to make them function?

Sure, these things are designed to reveal character, to peel back their layers. But let me introduce you to the characters:

* Fat Guy Who Likes Movies, TV, Music, Comics and Hanging Out.

* Doctor Who Can't Always Be God.

* Bad-Boy Trouble-Maker Who Actually Has a Warm Heart Under All His Fear.

* British Rock Star With Drug Addition.

* Iraqi Guy With Violent Military Past.

...and, again, so on. If there's a single non-Lost viewer reading this, you tell me - you think you need any explanation of who these guys are? Or have you pretty much got it already?

Sit down, open up a Word page, or a new email, and type the first few things you expect you know about one these characters. Their natures, how they were formed, who they get on with, what their issues might be.

I guarantee you'll be right about at least 70%.

COMPLEX characters are entitled to flashbacks. Lost has one and a half complex characters. Cut-outs and out-of-the-drawer types attached to actors deserve no such luxury.

Would you be amazed to learn that our rock star has to battle his drug addiction whilst trapped on the island? Would you be stunned by the fact that the fat nerd is lovable, but gets on people's nerves? That the Iraqi eventually has to delve into his past and torture someone...for the good of the group?

Oh, and did I not mention the spoilt little rich girl? She is learning Valuable Life Lessons while marooned. Ain't that special?

It's ridiculous, the time they're given. It's a show built on function, on the release of information. It's almost impossible to care about these people. So we'll settle for being interested in the events that surround them.

Which is why cutting away from those events for half of every show is REALLY DUMB.

Another consequence of this type of formatting - sticking rigidly regardless of usefulness - is what it does to the island story on the off-weeks.

Every arc storyline has to take a beat sometimes. You can't progress it every week. (24 tries, and just keeps being forced to throw in more and more stupid twists. Again, slave to the format.) The dust has to settle before you kick it up again.

On a normal show, fine. On Lost, this is a major problem. Because in between the Shocking Flashback Revelation that a character once found stubbing their toe painful is an island story of dust settling. A B-plot of, say, the islanders making themselves a golfcourse.

In a regular show, such a B-plot is fine, it's light entertainment, relief from the A-story.

In Lost, it means you get a C-plot supporting a B-plot.

Oh dear blessed Jesus and all his many comedy sidekicks.

That Lost remains addictive as popcorn, or picking a scab, is without doubt. But I would, happily, exchange 20 minutes of every episode for...well having that time back, frankly.


At Mon Jun 26, 03:33:00 am, Blogger rn_buffoon said...


The thing that I find unexplainable is how most of the Island's survivors remain in relative safety at camp, leading seemingly normal lives (for those who are stuck on a deserted and strange island anyway)- while the main characters are slogging it out in the mysterious hatch, fighting off the Other's or trying to work out why the island has polar bears.

If it's so dangerous out there I would never leave the safety of the camp- and nor should they. Anyway; I'm sure Sun could use a little help in her vegetable garden...

At Wed Jun 28, 02:25:00 pm, Blogger sorking said...

Indeedy! Don't like Sawyer or Locke? Go talk to someone else and tell them THEM the 'big secrets'.

Seriously, it's time Jack raised his hands and said "Everyone, listen up! Turns out some others live here, they want to kill us, there's some murderous smoke creature knocking about, and a doomsday computer thingy in a bunker full of food and guns. Any ideas?"

Another annoyance: 50 days they've been there (well, UK-time, half-way through series 2). And yet they've all setteled down like it's been forever, and aged...well a year or so. This is just going to get worse after seven series, seven real years, island time: eight months.

I mean, Walt'll be ready for college!

At Sun Jul 02, 12:37:00 am, Anonymous eric said...

so i'm guessing you've stopped watching?

At Thu Jul 20, 04:37:00 pm, Blogger sorking said...

It's like TV crack. I know it's bad for me, but I can't stop the addiction...


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