Friday, February 03, 2006

Lost - something that bugs me

Re-watching the 'Destination Lost' special on Wednesday night gave me quite a surprise. There's something fundamental to the show - its soap opera character backgrounds - that bugs me.

Now I like Lost and what the writers are doing - but part of it's appeal is that it originally seemed to centre on ordinary people, trying to survive. The beginning of the special certainly reinforced this. These are normal airline passengers, it stated, who through extraordinary circumstances are forced to learn more about each other and rely on each other. I've said before that I think this was the basis of Lost's initial appeal. Its universality; it's "what would I do in that situation?"

However, where that theory breaks down is that the main characters are a paraplegic mystic, a possibly psychic child, a drug addict from a famous rock band and a wanted criminal. And all of them seemed to be bound together by forces of fate or science that are greater than themselves.

Yes, this is good series design - it gives you lots of nice personal stories to play out over the island & (again) lets you contrast to people were before and after the crash. But it's certainly not 'universal'.

And I believe a good show could be made out of characters who are just ordinary people, possessing no particular soap opera conflicts to begin with - and the drama would come simply from watching them react sensibly to incredibly difficult situations. In fact, our brainstorming group is working just such a show at the moment.

*I think this is something that Chris pointed out to me many months ago, but I've only just noticed it for myself.
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chuck said...

I don't know if I agree with your initial interpretation of what Lost is/was. To me, well at least after the appearance of the polar bear, it has always been a fantasy show. And in the great tradition of most fantasies I know about the main characters are a) always thrust into the situation by incredible or fantastical means and b) will always exhibit some sense of abnormality in the face of the fantastical elements they now face. In other words, ordinary joes are always changed *immediately* into fantastical characters when they enter the fantasy. Does this make sense?

So, for me, it is no problem that there are rock stars, and wanted felons, and fat funny guys who seem to only be on the island because of some crazy fantasy preordained logic loop. All these people are fantastic and make themselves a home in the fantasy of Lost.

I hope that your brainstorming does come up with something that is more ordinary joe based and yet just as interesting (i'm a sucker for fantastical elements as a rule). I reckon the Insiders Guide to Happiness was close to achieveing this. And as I may have said before , I think you will be interested in the Brit Series called "Life on Mars"; the premise is that a UK cop of today's time gets run over and wakes up as a UK cop in the 1970's. Yes - another fantasy, but the premise and setup has a lot more ordinary-ness than Lost. And on the basis of the pilot and episode 2, I'd thoroughly recommend it.

hix said...

'Life on Mars' sounds great! I hope it comes out here - or that I manage to see it ... another way.

I agree with your assessment that it's a fantasy show. SF/Fantasy, more specifically. But let me break down my point a bit more:

1. The initial appeal of Lost for viewers is either:
a) Survivors on a MYSTERIOUS island; or
b) "What would I do if I were shipwrecked on an island?"

(a) is all about 'watching', and (b) is all about 'identifying with'.

2) I have no idea what percentage split there is between those 2 groups of Lost viewers, but I was in Camp B - for very much the same reasons I enjoyed Castaway ... I want to see how normal people survive without modern-day resources.

3) You're right - it quickly turns into a fantasy. Maybe at the appearance of the polar bear (although Ep 2.3 provides a hint at a reasonable explanation behind that) but definitely when the MONSTER bites the head off the pilot.

Now I'm cool with ordinary people transforming into characters in a fantasy at that point. The touch of the unnatural 'contaminating' the cast, forcing them to respond and make choices that aren't ordinary or natural. I'm cool with that, but ...

4) Lost has a flashback structure. That means the flashbacks have to be entertaining enough to support many seasons - and therefore the characters are 'unnatural' before they reach the island; all of them existing in the 'seedy-noir' universe of Lost (off the island).

You're comfortable with that. I'm prepared to ignore it (because I enjoy the premise of the show), but yeah it was really noticeable when I watched that special the other night.