18 October, 2005

How Harry Potter Ruined 'Lost'

Lost started out as a happy accident. Originally conceived as a dramatic Gilligan's Island, the powers that be brought in some script retoolers. Those young dudes added a bit of hocus pocus because right now weird sells. It sold enough to earn an Emmy, countless spinoffs and legion websites. There is now, for those of you who can't get enough, a a bi-monthly magazine covering the show in excruciating Tiger Beat detail. Many of us who have tuned in from the first roar of the now-forgotten beast are now puzzled over the non-events in Button Down The Hatch and seriously wondering how many colonics it takes for J.J. Abrams to write this show. Why are we so picky? Why are we not sitting back and enjoying the ride?
I blame Harry Potter. There are now six books in that series, and readers everywhere (Brittney, what are you waiting for?) have fallen in love with them. The first time you read the books you're definitely surprised by the amount of forethought and structure J.K. Rowling gives them. A character who barely rates a mention in the first book becomes an integral part in subsequent books. What may seem like a mere decorative element in one story line will--three or four books later--turn into the lynchpin which drives the series. This intricate plotting and investment in story arc is a longstanding literary construct. It has its roots in Judaic folklore and can be seen in works as diverse as The Arabian Nights , Tom Jones** and Les Miserables. However, it seems to be a dying art in postmodern American fiction. My initial excitement over Lost was largely because that was what Abrams et al were promsing the audience. (I certainly don't keep tuning in for the CheeseKate glimpses of Evangeline Lilly in wet shirts and towels.) They've flirted with the idea of a detailed continuity and Moebius-strip arc many times. TiVos across the country are worn out with the task of spotting the "look, here's Hurley in Sun & Jin's Flashback" moments. How many of us were glued to the screen hunting for the tattoo on the shark's arse? Yet I can't help but feel this trail of breadcrumbs leads...nowhere. Maybe before Harry Potter we'd all have been fine with the smoke and mirrors. Now we're spoiled for finely woven fabric.

Which you'll get if you flip the channel over to Veronica Mars. There is hope for the arc-driven show. If only I could still hope for Lost.

**As far as I'm concerned, Tom Jones is the finest piece of English literary fiction ever written.


At 7:07 AM, October 18, 2005, Anonymous Sarcastro said...

I like his version of "The Tennessee Waltz" with the Chieftains.

At 7:44 AM, October 18, 2005, Blogger Michael said...

Hey now...you forgot my favorite nearly-naked Kate moment...which is her in her skimpy unmentionaables in the ocean in the first episode...now THAT is good TV.

But over to your point.

If you're an arc driven TV fan, you were really spoiled to death by Babylon Five. Why? Because JMS knew where the whole story was going from day one. He sold it by saying--yes, I know how it will end and where and why...but it was the journey getting there. And I will say that there were no minor characters on B5 as we first assumed. An apparently minor season one character becomes a lynchpin of the entire saga in season there and turns the series forever on a path twoard the destruction of a main character...damn, that's good writing.

On some level, Joss Whedon perfected this more with the season-based arc storytelling that was Buffy.

And now we come to Lost and Alias. Sorry, but I do not think J.J. Abrams is all that big a genius compared to JMS or Joss Whedon. Why? Cause Alias sucks and they have no direction anymore. And I think what keeps Lost from spiralling out of control is the fact that J.J. was a big name called in to launch this thing and has since, thank the maker, been pushed aside and he's got producers and writers who have a clue working on it. NOw, do I think Lost has an end point already established such as B5? Yes and no..the thing with B5's arc was that you can see how JMS had to adjust and change some elements to get us there..such as your main actor leaving after the first year. I think we could see Lost do this--have a set end point but have to adjust things and elements to get there as time goes along.

At 9:10 AM, October 18, 2005, Blogger Kat Coble said...

I like his version of "The Tennessee Waltz" with the Chieftains.

So do I, funnyman....

Michael, I should have listed B5 in there. That for me was the perfect television show. I really don't think, though, that the writers for Lost had nearly the same backbone in their arc. In fact I'm beginning to doubt that they even have an arc, per se.

At 9:10 AM, October 18, 2005, Blogger HUCK said...

Ahh ha! I think you've hit on the reason why I'll never watch a show like Lost: Two-dimensional beautiful-people characters don't have enough substance to carry an arc.

I knew it the moment I channel surfed across it. As soon as I saw the cast of over-hyped soap stars, I kept on truckin.

I think it's one of Newton's Younger Brother's Laws of literodynamics: 'You can't get blood out of a turnip, and you'll never get a believable emotion out of a model, but you'll sure-as-hell be up to your hip-boots in melodrama' ...or something like that.

You're right, Harry Potter is nothing like anything you'll find on TV, because well, TV is all about selling someone else's product. The creators of a show aren't concerned with the litterary quality of their advertising vehicle, only that their show is able to attract and direct consumers towards the hungry waiting maw of their sponsors.

So, what do you do about it? Boycott the crap, and never look back.

At 9:54 AM, October 18, 2005, Blogger Patrick said...

I don't really watch Lost for any hoped-for arc of the covenant, or Evangeline (or Maggie... or any of the other leads for that matter.) I watch Lost because:
- it's great water cooler talk
- it reminds me of "Myst" or a "choose your own adventure" book
- despite its gargantuan pilot budget, in a lot of ways, it's "the little show that could," taking a no-name cast and making them People mag-level stars
- it has that "how do these things tie in" feature (4... 8... 15...)
- the producers are having fun with things like hansofoundation.org, and that kind of appeals to the hacker in me
- I really don't mind it if any or all of it is a red herring ("everything is going to change"), but that's just me. You might be the kind of person that would have been disappointed in the Bobby Ewing dream season.

I wouldn't be surprised if the story gets out of hand, there are continuity problems (well why didn't they just _____?) and eventually, the whole thing ends in disinterest, but for now, the ride is still fun.

At 1:49 PM, October 18, 2005, Blogger P. K. Nail said...

I don't watch Lost because the more my online friends rave about it, the less I want to see it. Plus, I refuse to get sucked into a TV fandom again. I lost a lot of my life that way with Dawson's Creek and Buffy, both of which ended up largely disappointing.

Tom Jones, however, is one of my two all-time favorite novels.

At 2:14 PM, October 18, 2005, Blogger Michael said...

PK--I'd love to know where you think Buffy started to go wrong...cause seasons 1-3 are some of the best TV I've ever seen. And while the later seasons lose a step, there are still enough solid episodes in there to make me, overall, a happy fan.

As for why B5 was able to be what it was...no network infereence. For four of its five years, it was syndicated...so it could do things as JMS wanted and needed. And again, JMS knew how it ended....so that helped a lot. But I will say this--early on, I was not enamored..it took until about seven or eight eps in for it click for me...and season one is better in seeing the seeds sewn for later.

As for Lost, I still love it and don't apologize for doing so. It's fun, entertaining and I think it has some good acting--such as Matthew Fox, Terry O'Quinn, etc. I will give you that Kate is eye-candy...but hey..why not?

At 9:19 AM, October 19, 2005, Blogger P. K. Nail said...

Michael - I liked Buffy quite a bit through all the seasons, but I thought season 7 was disappointing. Still liked it, it was just ... meh. I thought all the stuff with Glory and Buffy's mom was great in season 5 and - even though it wasn't quite as entertaining - season 6 did such a great job of portraying that general malaise of "real world" crud. After that, though, the last season was sort of limp.

But the first 3 seasons were DEFINITELY the best. Season 3 in particular.


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