Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lost Is Back, Baby

I've been kind of standoffish about Lost this so far this season, partly because of The (Fictional) Prisoners' Dilemma I described earlier. Last night's episode, though, brought me back in. Locke is back in first season form, communing with the island, having visions, fighting polar bears. Good stuff, and a welcome return from the conflicted weakling he had become in the second season.

There was a lot of prophecy in this episode. Locke has a prophetic vision in a sweat lodge (using the same psychotropic stuff he used on Boone in season one), then later an unconscious Eko seems to come awake and deliver another prophecy to Locke, while Hurley (who last season listened to a radio broadcast of Glenn Miller and mused that the signal might be traveling through time) hears Desmond make a prophetic remark that makes Hurley think Desmond has traveled through time as well. By the end, Locke has returned to the beach settlement like Moses coming down from the mountain to give the other castaways their marching orders. Later this season, I see Locke and Eko traveling to the Others' camp to tell Ben Linus (aka Henry Gale), "Thus saith The Island, 'Let my people go!'"

So a good episode, although the flashbacks surprisingly didn't resolve, so I'm disappointed in that.

BTW, I haven't been blogging it, but Lost is followed by another surprisingly good show, titled The Nine. I'm not thrilled with the title. When I first heard it, I thought it was a show about the Supreme Court.

Basically, The Nine is another big puzzle show, with an intriguing premise. Two guys plan a simple bank robbery, in and out in five minutes. Things go wrong, and 52 hours later, the SWAT team rushes in to end a hostage stalemate. We see the customers go into the bank, and we see very different people come out, along with intriguing clues to what went on during those lost 52 hours. The series now proceeds along two tracks, telling the stories of how the nine hostages deal with the aftermath of the crisis while also flashing back to tell the events of the stand-off itself.

The premise is pretty gimmicky, but the character writing is good. But even before the show premiered, people were wondering how long it would last, being scheduled right on the heels of Lost, since both shows have large ensemble casts and complex storylines. Would viewers be willing to watch two intricately-plotted dramas in a row?

In fact, most, if not all, TV dramas follow that model, which makes it a lot more intimidating for a new viewer to drop in on an established show. Jonah Goldberg at NRO pointed to this passage in a New Yorker review by Malcolm Gladwell of the book, Everything Bad is Good For You:

As Johnson points out, television is very different now from what it was thirty years ago. It's harder. A typical episode of "Starsky and Hutch," in the nineteen-seventies, followed an essentially linear path: two characters, engaged in a single story line, moving toward a decisive conclusion. To watch an episode of "Dallas" today is to be stunned by its glacial pace--by the arduous attempts to establish social relationships, by the excruciating simplicity of the plotline, by how obvious it was. A single episode of "The Sopranos," by contrast, might follow five narrative threads, involving a dozen characters who weave in and out of the plot.

My feelings exactly. This is a double-edged sword, however. While it makes for a richer viewing experience, it can make people like me reluctant to try a show that we haven't been in on from the beginning. I keep hearing about how great Battlestar Galactica is, but the few episodes I've watched, while good, were so enmeshed in ongoing storylines and relationships that I felt kind of adrift. I occasionally catch an episode, but I don't care if I miss one. And although I hear great things about The Shield, there's no way I'm going to try to jump into it in the middle.

I've got enough on my plate with Lost and Smallville and Heroes and Supernatural and Prison Break and The Nine and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Survivor, thank you very much.

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