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Let’s get Lost
The cult hit spawns a wanna-be

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Lost on the Web: a tour of fansites. By Chris Nelson.

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Television is a funny and unapologetic thing. Every season, there’s a left-field hit, an unexpected cult favorite that’s then ripped off and watered down by rival networks and even by the network of origin, as in the case of the Law & Order franchise. In the early 2000s, it was the reality-show boom; more recently, the alphabet soup of CSI knockoffs permeated the tube. Last season’s surprise supernatural success, Lost (which resumes with new episodes beginning January 11 at 9 pm on ABC), has inspired no fewer than three imitators — two of which will be off the air by the time you read this.

But even as Lost’s knockoffs sputter and fail, the originator is going stronger than ever. Now in its second season, the half-thriller/half-drama has built its reputation and attracted its rabid fan base through a myriad of twists and secrets. To try to summarize the show at this point would be a bit like trying to edit the Bible down to a few paragraphs. Oceanic Flight 815 was bound for LAX from Sydney when an unknown malfunction downed the plane on an uncharted jungle island thousands of miles off course. The survivors (of which there are about 40, not counting those who’ve been — uh — lost) were living a moderately charmed existence, as being stranded goes, when they realized they were not alone. Not only was there a geodesic dome buried deep beneath the surface, but it seemed that the island had been used as a scientific research station before an "incident" occurred. Oh, and did I mention the polar bear?

If the whole thing sounds confusing, understand that it’s a bit easier to digest when you’re taking it in one week at a time. The labyrinthine story line is also made a lot more bearable by the cast, which was superb to begin with and got bulked up before the second season began. The new additions not only provide more stunning character-based episodes with their individual flashback episodes but also give a sense of symmetry to the island. Terry O’Quinn’s wise and faithful John Locke has found his counterpart in Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Mr. Eko, a quiet religious man with a big stick. Michelle Rodriguez’s paranoid, trigger-happy Ana Lucia finally seems ready to chill out for a bit, as she appears quite fond of Matthew Fox’s Jack, the all-American doctor and hero of the Lost-aways. (I have a personal theory that he’ll turn bad any moment now, however.)

But though being a Lost fan may provide you with endless hours of water-cooler fodder and could even increase your chances of winning on Jeopardy someday (try Googling for information about Locke’s namesake and electromagnetic theory), it’s also bound to raise your blood pressure a few points. For all the thrills and the action that the show’s producers throw our way, they’ve been stingy about revealing the secrets that dot the island like so much wreckage on the beach. Where (and what) is this mysterious monster, the "security system" that’s been terrorizing the survivors since the pilot? Who exactly are "the Others," and how did they come to the island? And for the love of God, what do the numbers mean? (The sequence 4-8-15-16-23-42 has played a significant role in both seasons.) But with both producers and writers stating in interviews that they’re prepared to run the series for seven or more seasons, maybe it’s no surprise that they’re not telling.

With the revelations that did come at the beginning of the second season — the subterranean dome, which Locke had been busy unearthing; the discovery of survivors from the tail of Flight 815 — Lost’s writers gave us our first real insight into the mechanics of the island. But in a move that intoxicated some fans and infuriated others, each revelation prompted a dozen additional questions. Even if the writers are ready to extend the show to infinity, are viewers willing to follow along? If we’re made to wait for the unveiling of the monster (sorry, "security system") for years, could the final product ever satisfy us? Creator J.J. Abrams might do well to consider Nip/Tuck, which recently unmasked "the Carver" in its spectacular train wreck of a season finale. (To borrow the royal phrase: we were not amused.)

It would be one thing if Lost’s copycats were merely supernatural thrillers with unseen monsters lurking around their protagonists. Unfortunately, they’ve also decided to borrow the show’s sluggish pacing. This wouldn’t be such a problem for, say, a show like Invasion (following Lost on ABC, Wednesdays at 10), except that it lacks the very thing makes Lost such a fascinating and compulsive watch: the character-driven subplots and back stories that are interspersed with the island action. That’s not to say that Invasion doesn’t try to make us feel for its characters, but the relationships are often needlessly complicated, and the caliber of acting is well below that of the original.

After a small Florida town is hit by a hurricane, the inhabitants who spent the storm in or around the water start acting a bit . . . funny. Their memories of the night of the hurricane are virtually erased, and their loved ones say they can hardly recognize them anymore. At the same time, some people begin seeing bright lights emanating from the town’s lakes and swamps. After about two episodes, it’s clear there’s some pod-person-style body snatching going on, but for whatever reason, Invasion withholds the "truth" for six or seven more episodes. Instead, early episodes of the show focused on two of the town’s couples. In one, ranger Russell Varon (Eddie Cibrian) tries to protect his pregnant reporter wife, Larkin (Lisa Sheridan), from the powers that (may) be as she pursues her hurricane-related theories to apparently dangerous ends. In the other, Russell’s ex-wife, Mariel (Kari Matchett), strives to figure out what really happened to her the night of the hurricane, even as her sheriff husband, Tom (William Fichtner), seems to know more than he’s letting on. The couples also share custody of Russell and Mariel’s two children, and they do so with unbelievable civility.

Tom and Mariel are the more interesting pair to watch, thanks mostly to Fichtner’s creepy performance. Russell and Larkin feel stunted. It could be the script: though Russell gets the lion’s share of screen time, his character seems hastily put together, a stereotypical non-believer who’s beginning to see the light. Then again, it could be the fact that Mariel is at his house daily, or that Larkin’s conspiracy-theory-obsessed blogger brother, Dave (Jack Black clone Tyler Labine), lives with them and is constantly bringing trouble to their lives.

Kinder viewers might call Invasion’s pacing "patient" and its plot line "open-ended." Patient and open-ended is one thing; to withhold every morsel of a secret from your audience, all the while lacing us with tantalizing clues, is another thing entirely. It’s a trick that the show picked up from Lost. What Invasion didn’t pick up is that no matter how spooky or terrifying your monster is, viewers aren’t going to care which character it eats if they don’t care about the characters in the first place.

Issue Date: January 6 - 12, 2006
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