Sunday, 23 May 2010

Lost without you

Well, it's finally here. After six years, 114 episodes and more flashbacks than Lindsay Lohan after a bank holiday weekend, Lost is finally coming to an end.

When it first started, confused audiences thought they were getting a remake of Gilligan's Island but with better effects and a hotter cast. Then we caught sight of the smoke monster, the shark with a Dharma Initiative tattoo and a rogue polar bear, not to mention ghosts, galleons and a hatch that seemed to lead to the centre of the Earth. Clearly, this was not the further adventures of the crew of the SS Minnow.

Part of the show's unique appeal was its time-bending structure. Taking its cue from 'grown-up' shows like The Sopranos on HBO, ABC's daring new timeline-jumping thriller challenged audiences to sit up, pay attention, and sometimes refer to Wikipedia for an explanation of consequentialism and temporal displacement. You never got any of that in Manimal.

What none of us realised at the time, was the fact that the flashbacks were more than just a way of padding out every episode (there are only so many arguments about "beach vs cave" that audiences can reasonably be expected to sit through). In fact, the entire show has always been about the flexible nature of time and the philosophy of predestination.

Of course, it didn't help matters that halfway through the show's run, the format changed and we jumped forward in time, instead of back. By this point, half the audience was scratching its head so often that there was a global outbreak of alopecia.

Now in its final season, the producers have pushed audience comprehension to its limit with an alternate reality timeline running alongside the on-island adventures. Having said that, the writers have kept a tight hold of the reigns and confidently disproved the early theory that they were making it up as they went along.

Obviously, there were elements that were improvised on the spot, but it's clear that from day one, the creative team knew where they were going. Even if most of the audience were as clueless as Paris Hilton reading 'A Brief History of Time'.

Although many fans dropped out at the mid-point of the show's run (five episodes set in an abandoned zoo pushed viewers' patience to the limit), the die-hard devotees have stuck with it throughout, and are now hoping that the climax will deliver the answers they so desperately need. Chances are, they're going to be disappointed, since Lost threw out more questions than a three-year old with ADD.

Here in the UK, the show will be broadcast 'live' at 5am tomorrow morning, coinciding with its West Coast debut. That way, they can avoid any unwanted spoilers or revelatory reveals, as well as pissing off those prodigious pirates.

It remains to be seen what the enduring legacy of Lost will be. Long-running narratives, complicated timelines and morally conflicted characters are now all far more commonplace on network TV than they were before 'the island'. But more importantly, the show managed to find a way to give viewers a regular dose of shirtless action in pretty much every episode. No complaints here.

In celebration of the most innovative American TV programme of the noughties, here's Lost's best bits (don't worry, Hurley kept his XXXXXL shirt on throughout the show's run)...

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