Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Lost in Lost - Season Five

[Spoilers ahead: Don’t read if you haven’t watched Lost and don't want it ruined for you.]

Lost was one of those TV series that I watched avidly when it first came out. The first two series were really good - but then the third and fourth started to drag on a bit - and so after the Season Four finale I stopped watching.

Generally I dislike American TV series for the fact that each series has on average about twenty episodes each. As well as the time factor (committing that many hours even for one series of one show is a pretty heavy investment), the main reason I don't agree with this is that I think that with too many episodes the story-telling starts to suffer.

At the end of the day its a money issue – if a show is doing well and has high ratings, the makers want as many people hooked into watching it for as long as possible in order to justify the high budget and start-up costs that a TV series typically such as Lost typically has.*

That makes sense business-wise, but my issue is how the story-telling suffers as a result of having to artificially extend the natural story and/or character arcs in order to accommodate a greater number of episodes. Specifically in Lost, this is done by continually adding more mysteries and unanswered questions (to an already mystery-heavy premise established from the very first episode), continually adding new characters into the mix (whilst bumping off a few every now and then) and showing flashbacks of past events (and also rather confusingly flashforwards) in various characters’ lives.

With Lost finally coming to a close at the end of Season Six, I started watching it again from where I left off (the start of Season Five), as having a definite conclusion to the story has peaked my interest in it again.

And now, at the time of writing, I’ve finished Season Five. And yes, it does introduce new characters and new questions that need to be answered. In regards to timelines too, the show is definitely not friendly for newcomers.

The first half of the season follows two timelines: one being the survivors who were not rescued jumping erratically through time, and the other following the group who did get rescued and how they are coping back in the world three years later. The second half of the season follows these two timelines: the survivors not rescued being stuck in 1977 after their time jumping is halted (where they remain for three years), and the rescued survivors returning to the island in another plane crash resulting in some of them being transported back to 1977 (and joining the others who were originally stranded there) and some of them remaining in the present. Oh, and there are also continued flashbacks from each character’s past to help flesh out/retcon their current motivations. Confused yet?

You can see why Lost is very unfriendly to viewers who haven’t watched it from the very beginning - but in a strange way is more deeply satisfying for those who have, the complexities and intricacies of the story being sustained over all this time being a testament to the skill of the writers.

And it is a well written series. Aside from having to somewhat stretch out the narrative around Seasons Three and Four, with the end now in sight it seems that Season Five is starting to prepare to tie up it’s loose ends and does provide some genuine answers to everything that is happening. Characterisation also remains strong as do the emotional arcs with an average of one tear-jerking moment™ per episode (as has always been the case with Lost episodes since the beginning).

So despite my reservations about long running series, I am excited to start Season 6 of Lost to see how it all wraps up and to finally conclude the story. In an ideal world, Lost would be a perfectly formed nugget of a tale told in two seasons – but for now I just want to see how it all comes together and am happy to sit through eighteen more episodes in order for it to finish properly and get the ending it deserves.

You’ll probably hear my thoughts when I get there.

25 Jan 2012

[*British TV series, by comparison, usually have lower budgets and fewer episodes – typically around six per series. One example is the UK and US versions of ‘The Office’. The original UK version had two series with six episodes each and two ‘Christmas Special’ episodes. The US version initially started with six episodes in Season One, but each subsequent season averaging twenty-five episodes. They are currently airing their eighth season at the time of writing.]

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