In all my years of writing about television, I've come to find the hardest thing to do is tickle a viewer's imagination.
Sure we can all be captivated by the latest procedural drama's intrigue or be smitten by the stylings of the newest comedy's brand of humor, but only in the rarest of cases do we feel challenged to think outside the box and genuinely wonder about what we've seen onscreen.
"Lost," ABC's new drama from J.J. Abrams ("Alias") and Damon Lindelof ("Crossing Jordan"), falls into that rarest of categories.
A jaw-dropping sequence kicks off the series as a man (Matthew Fox) awakens on an island to the dreadful awareness that he's survived a catastrophic plane crash. As he makes his way to the beach we watch the chaos of the survivors as they scramble to safety and to cope with the extraordinary event that has occurred.
Right from the start, there's a genuine sense of fear and uncertainty in "Lost" that I can't recall seeing on the small screen before. All of the survivors actually behave as one might expect: most simply freeze up and can't cope while others refuse to accept what has happened. Those that can move past such feelings, such as Fox's character, seem to just compartmentalize it for the greater good. Overall, it's just plain fascinating to see a series press emotional buttons you don't see every week on television.
Over the course of the show's two-hour pilot (which ABC is splitting into two parts - part one this week and part two the next), information is pieced out gradually - everything from something as simple as the characters' names to actual flashbacks to the events leading up to the crash. Simply put, this isn't a show that exists in a procedural vacuum - every episode, every act, every moment - is about a constant struggle for survival and/or piece of mind.
While the "Law & Order"s and "C.S.I."s are the audience grabbers of today, it's downright refreshing to find something you can get sucked into so completely and want to chew up every little morsel it offers. Simply put, this is a series that was born to be deconstructed by message board users and at water coolers across the country. While it's difficult to talk about specifics without giving away much of the plot (as you've likely seen from the promos, the survivors are far from alone), suffice it to say everything from a game of backgammon to a radio transmission will rattle your respective imaginative cages beyond simple "things that go bump in the night."
Surprisingly though despite its intoxicating "mystery" angle (which I should note doesn't feature the air of disconnectedness "The X-Files'" did or the inherent bizarreness "Carnivale's" does), "Lost" seems to be at its heart a character drama. Virtually all of the characters have secrets - some we know about, some we assume will be shown later - that define them and test their resolve beyond simple survival. As an added twist, Abrams and Lindelof have wisely opted to make the plane that crashed an international one, meaning that beyond simple survival issues, there's cultural and language barriers to break between the survivors as well. The interaction between the characters drives home all of these aspects, resulting is easily the best new drama of the 2004-05 season thus far.
As I mentioned previously, it's rare to find television that touches your imagination. It's even rarer to find one that does not only that, but makes you want to rush home to watch it every week, talk about it ad naseum with others and just plain enjoy what television can do.
"Lost" airs Wednesdays at 8:00/7:00c on ABC. The show's first two episodes will encore Saturday, October 2 at 8:00/7:00c.