How 'Lost' Ruined Serialized Network TV
Monday, March 17, 2014
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the series premiere of Lost,
one of the most influential and infuriating TV shows ever made. Many
members of the cast and crew gathered at PaleyFest to mark the occasion
in a panel that only served to make me think about Lost's legacy.
At the panel, showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse were asked about the outrigger chase from season 5 when Sawyer, Juliet and others, during one of the time shifts, were being chased by an unknown group in a second outrigger. That group was never identified. Lindelof said that the writers did come up with an answer to that mystery and that it was written, but never filmed. "What's cooler is to not answer that question" he said.
That statement made my blood boil even more than the series finale did. "No," I respond. "It is definitely NOT cooler." As a fan and TV critic, I spent hundreds, maybe thousands of hours watching, writing about, talking about and thinking about Lost. I dedicated nearly seven years of my life to the show after a brilliant pilot episode that established many mysteries, hoping that I would eventually be given resolution.
I wasn't. I still have a ton of questions about what was happening on Lost and the outrigger mystery is only the tip of the iceberg. The fact that Lindelof cavalierly avoided the answer simply made me realize that Lost, as a complete series, has ruined my ability to enjoy serialized network dramas.
Take Resurrection, ABC's newest smash-hit about people who mysteriously return from the dead many years later. I loved the pilot and am already invested in it. But there's a part of me that is angry at the show. I'm worried that I won't get satisfaction, that the answers (if any) to the mystery of how these people came back won't be good enough.
It's not rational, I know, but Lost has made it impossible for me to trust television. Why should I get invested in another serialized mystery when it's possible that I won't get any real sense of closure? I watched every episode of NBC's The Event, but why? There were no answers, and I'm still not sure what "the event" actually was. Every time a new show begins with some mysterious element (like NBC's Crisis and Believe or CBS' Under the Dome), I go in scared that my time will be wasted.
Before Lost, all we had to worry about was whether or not a show would get canceled before getting to answer the questions. It makes it hard to jump onto the bandwagon of shows like Believe or Crisis if they're probably going to be axed after a single season (like FlashForward). It's why FOX was wise to give Sleepy Hollow such an early renewal for a second season.
But Lost has added something new to worry about beyond fear of an early cancellation. Lost had a specific end date. It knew, two years in advance, when it was ending. That gave the writers plenty of time to come up with an endgame that would answer all of its questions, but they didn't. Not only do we have to worry about whether a show will succeed, but made us worry about whether we can even trust the writers if the show does succeed.
Lost was like an abusive boyfriend, one that I couldn't quit and one who has made me untrustworthy of all TV shows. The fact that, four years after the series finale, the executive producer still thinks not answering questions is cool just makes me even more reluctant to start a new relationship.
(Image courtesy of ABC)