Friday, August 7, 2015

Lost, an Ex Post Facto Review

Let me say up front, I don't watch television. Though, here and there I use Netflix to check out television shows of the recent past, if just for the sake of basic 'cultural' (and in this context that word is inherently funny) knowledge: e.g., Once Upon a Time, which had a great premise that could only last a season, and did (and just barely at that); Fringe, which never really knew what it wanted to be and was unraveling from the start because of it (didn't make it through the first season); and, of course Daredevil, which was some of the worst television I've ever seen. (I did watch it all the way through, though, just so I could say, with evidence, that that was some of the worst television I have ever seen. And this is an age of reality television.)

So, recently I decided to check out Lost. (Previously, I perhaps had seen fifteen minutes of one episode, probably first season, maybe not. As I said, I do not watch television.) I made it into the second season, and only by forcing myself. The plot lines, such as they were, by season's end were getting, well, let's face it, stupid. But even more the cause was that I couldn't bear most of the characters. The acting of the boy, Walt, was terrible. I could rarely stand his presence on the screen. This might have been mostly the fault of directing and writing, though. (I say that if just for benefit of the doubt; I found the boy not well cast, personally; unable to successfully pull off the more emotionally or energetically charged scenes.) I found his father almost as bad, and perhaps here you see why I fault first directing and writing. The character was so cardboard, so limited he constantly fell into laugh-out-loud comedy (usually when he was supposed to be at his most emotional). The counter point was his engagements with Jin and Sun: in those situations, Micheal had something to do beyond the very empty and forced father-son engagement. Indeed, Micheal's character is best when the son is not on screen, as with building the boat with Jin. (Which is evidence to what I think is a basic rule of writing, the other Wil Wheaton rule: don't add a child into an ensemble of adults. They will never fit.)

Charlie's character showed true promise and development, until they sabotaged his relationship with Claire with the soap-opera-borrowed idiocy of memory loss. After that, the character is tangibly cut adrift and has nothing to do but over-react to what goes on around him. And Jack's character, well, depending on the moment, he was either god asshole of the world (again, because of bad writing) or he was the whatever-the-episode-needed-him-to-be-never-mind-the-previous-episode-because-he's-the-central-character character; and possibly the stupidest doctor ever to inhabit the boundaries of the small screen. But, again, because of poor decisions in the writing. The Jack of the end of season one has almost no connection to the Jack that opened the series. But, then, does that show inconsistency of writing? or an inconsistency stemming in never really knowing what Jack was supposed to be in the first place? At the end of season one, where Jack is asking Kate if she has his back because of perceived, upcoming troubles with Locke, one has to question how the writers expected the viewers to take that moment seriously, in that if you are at all watching the show actively, it is quite obvious that Jack is the real threat to the stability of the group, and is very near off his rocker with paranoia. Bad writing (and directing), again. But, this is television. Television audiences don't think about what they are watching.

I should say, the only reason I went as far as the end of season one, indeed half way through season one, was because the opening episodes, those directed by Abrams, were wonderfully directed (if, at times, showing some clumsy writing). But, so it often goes with television shows.

The best characters by far (and the best acting by far), both in the island stories and in the flashbacks, were Sun and Jin and Sayid. After them Hurley (though only as a survivor on the island, not as regards back story), and after him Sawyer and Kate, but only insofar as they are engaging each other. The Sawyer and Kate characters as written as regards Jack are as daft and inconsistent as is the Jack character. But, then, that's because they're being defined by the absolutely transient and central element that is Jack. And the Sawyer character with anyone other than Kate is wholly forced.

Who did I leave out? Boone, who had potential but had nothing to do except be foil for Locke and Shannon. And Shannon, who had nothing to do except be eventual love interest for Sayid. And Claire, who had nothing to do except bear the burden of the inevitable, and inevitably hokey and hackneyed, birthing episode. (A pregnant woman is just as bad an element of an ensemble as a child. Rarely is it pulled off well. And you once the child was borne, Claire pretty much vanishes from having purpose.)

Then there is Locke: who is really the central character of the show, right from the start, right from the moment of "there are two sides, one light, one dark," and should have been written more dominantly as such. Not, however, in terms of having the most air time, but in terms of being the one rock around which all the other characters would circle. Unfortunately, because of the instability of ever changing central character of Jack (and, to be honest, the not always terribly well acted character of Jack), that was not possible. The show wanted Jack to be the center, and wanted the conflict between Jack and Locke at the end of the season, and the story lines and characters went through contortions to get to it.

General comments. I am still curious if the show could in any way maintain the Bridge at San Luis Rey style of organization. I am not sure how well of a job it was doing with it through season one: there are episodes where what happens on the island is trivial, and everything of substance presented is back story: unfortunately, back story that will not create depth in the characters on the island. This is what makes the Jin and Sun and Sayid characters the best of the lot: they have solid, developed back stories, they have solid, purposed roles in the island stories, and the former wholly informs the latter. (So also with Kate and Sawyer, though value of the back stories upon the island story really mostly applies only as regards each other. If you at all pay attention to Kate and Jack, the Jack character is constantly thwarting any development of back to front with Kate, and so the story between thost two characters is only ever shallow, in the moment, and too often contrived.

Though, not curious enough to watch any more of the show. By episode three the new story lines of season two are already so contrived and so cardboard (especially as regards the Micheal/Sawyer/Jin line, which is laughably bad), I was forcing myself through the episodes. (Though, it is not that I didn't see it coming at the end of season one.) Unlike Daredevil, however, which I made myself watch all the way through if just so I can say, "Yes, I watched all the way through, and it was horrendously bad, and I can show you why," I've no intention of watching five more seasons of this.

Indeed, last night I could not make it through, and turned instead to watch Dr. Who. I've never gotten back around to watching the first season with David Tennant. To be honest, that first Christmas episode is pretty bad, and in so many ways. There are a lot of good things to say about Dr. Who, mostly as regards the writing; but, that does not mean that, occasionally, sometimes more than occasionally, it falls into silliness, or just bad television. Where it survives, though, is in the cast, in the interaction of the characters; and when it is best is when the characters are fully developed, which means developed both forwards and back. That is what is wholly lacking in Lost: to few of the characters are any more than their back story, and even fewer successfully pull that back story into their actions upon the island. Even fewer characters have any development as inhabitants of the island: they constantly shift to meet the demands of the story at hand. Except for Sun and Jin, and Sayid. Except for them – and Jin, unfortunately, is now caught in a plot line taken from a umpteenth season Magnum: PI story arc – I really couldn't care how the show develops.

But then, it's not developing. It's simply stumbling along. No reason to watch it. It is television, after all.

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