Monday, April 19, 2010

On Lost

Okay, this is why I don't blog anymore. I start writing (or thinking about) something, and then I don't finish (or write) it, and then the point becomes moo. So I started writing this rant about Lost last week, pretty much got all my points down but needed to edit it, then dragged my heels, and then this week's episode (which, actually is now already last week's episode) was fucking fantastic and I am no longer filled with rage. Like, actually, all the rage I've felt towards this show over the last 4 years or so was just (and by "just," I mean a week ago when I started writing this addendum to what I started writing a week before) wiped away in 44 minutes. But y'know what, all these seasons of rage are still worth a blog post, so just pretend it's last week and I just suffered through an hour of Desmond nonsense which the rest of the world inexplicably loved.

I haven't really liked Lost since the first season, and I've come to resent it mightily. I feel compelled to watch it to the end, partly because of the whole cultural phenomenon thing (I'll feel like I'm missing something if I don't watch) but also because of the genuine goodwill and investment they generated during that first season (maybe season and a half, I don't remember exactly when I checked out). But I don't like it. It's like homework. There are moments, flashes, when the show still engages me, but they're few and far between. Mostly I'm bored. And the way the entire rest of the world seems to be obsessed with it just makes me hate it more, because I'm contrary like that.

I consider myself pretty mainstream, and I love me some pop culture trash, but I do tend to react badly when the masses (and not even necessarily the mass masses, but the majority of people I interact with) tell me I HAVE to watch something, or what do you MEAN you don't like it? Most of the shows I've been really fanboyish about over the years - Battlestar, Buffy, Doctor Who, Twin Peaks, Max Headroom, to name a few off the top of my head - have mostly been at least a little bit culty. In fact, I started watching Lost purely because it had JJ Abrams' name on it, and I was a huge fan of Alias, another show not a lot of people watched. I remained a fan to the very end, when the plot stopped making one bit of sense. Which sounds pretty familiar. But Alias was never really about the crazy spy missions, which got to be a little repetitive. It was about really complicated characters with really complicated relationships, and it had some of the best acting on television from stage vets Victor Garber and Ron Rifkin. My favorite shows are all about the people in them first and foremost. I don't care much about the Rambaldi device or if it was Earth all along, or if Leland was possessed by a demon, I mostly want to see where these people I've spent years watching end up.

This for me is the exact problem with Lost. It IS about the Island. And when it does focus on the people, they're not people I want to spend any time with. The first season showed promise of an interesting group of characters dealing with an insane situation, with the flashbacks giving us little bits of backstory in an inventive way. But over the years I've come to HATE these people. They're completely two-dimensional, and the constant piling on of new ones gives us episodes like this week's [last week's!] where we don't see a single member of the original cast for more than 30 seconds. Though that's okay, given how I feel about most of the original cast. They're either whiny, selfish and hateful (Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Jack, Locke, Jack, Jack), boring (Desmond), one-note (Sayid, Locke again, sorry - Ben), delightful-yet-always-subtitled (Sun), or kinda stupid (Hurley, Charlie, Jin). The people I like are generally dead (Juliet, red-headed nosebleed girl, that girl Hurley was seeing for a while [hey, she came back!], Rousseau, Carl) or aren't around much (Widmore, Penny, Eloise – who, yes, were all in the Desmond episode). Actually, not having them around much might be why I continue to like them. There's no depth to any of them. Every Jack flashback (or flashforward or fucking flash sideways) is exactly the same - Jack's an arrogant, petulant, self-centered asshole - and we learn nothing new because there's nothing new to learn. That's all the writers have. And with so many other people to get to, it's all they can have. Michael Emerson's performance is delightful, and Ben's a bright spot in the show for me, but even he's wearing thin as he continues to do the exact same thing week after week. And a love triangle between three of the most annoying characters on television? Kill me. And thank you, Juliet for putting a bit of a stop to it.

I'm a big fan of smart, complicated TV. But Lost doesn't feel smart to me. And it's only complicated because they just keep throwing more shit at it and seeing what sticks. It feels to me like people who want other people to think they're smart and awesome and are just putting on a show of it. I want to see storytellers who are smart and awesome organically. The writers may have a plan (and I have enough respect for JJ Abrams' other work to think that may be so) but at this point the mythology is so sprawling and messy and (seemingly?) inconsistent that I can't be bothered to follow it and have come out the other side on boring. I'm good at mythology-heavy shows, but when I lost interest I lost the thread and I rarely have much desire to follow ancillary stuff, even on shows I like better, so as time goes by it becomes that much harder to engage. Battlestar Galactica (to resort to nerd cliché) expertly gave us the sense of a large world in grave peril, but focused on a relatively small group of people in that world.

I love time travel stuff, so the flash-sideways is an interesting idea, and I was actually really into the season premiere where the concept was set up. But I do not care one little bit about Kate, or a timeline that has nothing to do with the actual story of the show, so spending 44 minutes with alterna-Kate is like torture. I know it will all tie in at the end (and I really dug the last 15 minutes of the Desmond episode where that started to happen - though the first 30 minutes were like death because who gives a fuck about alterna-Desmond being even more boring than usual, brother?) but I don't see how going into all this detail about lives that in some sense will never have happened is a good use of my time.

It was harder to be a fan back in the day, but it was also so much easier to NOT be one. I'm definitely a bit of a joiner (hi, Twitter!) and also a big consumer of internet content (hi again, Twitter!) so it all becomes a little impossible to avoid. Even just five years ago it was very easy for me not to watch The Wire or Deadwood and not care one bit, but since they're apparently the Best Shows Ever, if they were on now I don't know if I'd be as strong - of if people would leave me alone about it.

Even Salon's Heather Havrilesky, who I think likes the show, sums up her review of the season premiere with this:
Ah, "Lost." You had us at hello, and we've been lawfully wedded to your deceptively mysterious but ultimately empty bag of mashed-up jackass ever since. At least we know that we'll only have to suffer through one more season of this foolishness. And now we have someone to root for: evil fake Locke, see also: the smoke monster. As long as he destroys everyone and everything in his path in the end, then he's our guy.

(Hm, or maybe she doesn't like it at all - a week later she wrote, "No, no, say the show's die-hard fans, it all adds up to pure brilliance, with numbers and mirrors and alternate realities! But ask any actual screenwriter or fiction writer or seasoned storyteller, and he or she will agree: There is no glorious final answer that can justify pulling a deus ex machina out of your ass every other episode.... Look, there is actually a difference between an elaborate, multitiered maze created by a mathematical genius and an enormous, tangled mess of scrap metal dumped there by someone who read a few Wikipedia entries on chaos theory and quantum mechanics and thought they were seriously cool.... It's not a guilty pleasure because there's no guilt and even less pleasure." It's nice to see a wicked smart professional critic who's on my side about this.)

I don't have a tidy way to end this post, especially since my thoughts are shifting a bit in the time since I started writing it, so I'll leave you there with the words of someone who actually gets paid to write about this stuff. And with a faint glimmer of hope that I might like the last 5 episodes of this show as much as I liked the first 5, and it might make the years of abuse in between seem worth it.

Oh, hey, look, I still have a blog, and I can write more than 140 characters here (a lot more, as it turns out). What an interesting concept!

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