I’ve had several messages on social media and public comments asking what number one would be. We’ve embarked on a fun trip these past ten weeks and I’ve appreciated hearing your own opinions on my selections and would love to hear your own top fives, so please tweet me @GuyNamedJason and let me know what you agree with and where I went wrong in your eyes. In the future, I may include some of the best or most relevant comments in subsequent articles.
The great thing about subjective lists is that they’re subjective lists. I get to sit down and figure out exactly where I slot the best of the best in the one thing I’m most passionate about, which is television. We may be moving to top ten in comedy starting next week or to something new, perhaps more than one piece a week. To those that have found me over the past few months, glad to have you on board. I had said at the beginning I would also mention my 11-15 just for perpetuity’s sake as well as because I feel they deserve mention. So here they are…
15. The Good Wife
13. The X-Files
12. Game of Thrones
(Okay here’s 16-20 in no order: Veronica Mars, Six Feet Under, NYPD Blue, Sons of Anarchy, Justified – again never having seen Bochco’s Hill Street Blues or LA Law outside of a few eps, I can’t include them. They’re in the plans for the next year or so. May write standalones then.)
Now we get to my own personal small screen nirvana, both literally and figuratively. Many would say either my number two or number four would be in their top slot, also possibly my number eight. Remember last week, I said, upon further review and after rewatching and binging on most of these shows for the purpose of this series of articles, I’ve decided I’d like The West Wing to rise to number five, moving everything from The Sopranos to Chuck down a slot. I also mentioned Chuck was me outthinking myself and wanting to be clever in my first article. I love it. It’s not a top ten drama. As a matter of fact, it’s probably not a top 20 drama. But the list is the list. Speaking of which…
We have to go back, Kate. We have to go back. (Jack Shepherd, S3E22)
NUMBER ONE: LOST (2004-2010)
Fiction should always make you think or ponder possibility. Fiction should always make you laugh, cry, end up on the edge of your seat or curled up in the fetal position. Fiction should always force your emotions in every possible direction. Great fiction should do it all while creating a setting, a cast of characters, and a story that completely engulfs its audience. Nothing, in any form of storytelling, has ever captured me in the way this little story about a plane crash on a mysterious island did several years ago. I think about it virtually every day in one form or another. From the beautiful score of Michael Giacchino as I walk through an airport or hike through the woods to the famous flashback, flash-forward, and flash-sideways narrative devices that I think of every time I watch Orange is the New Black or The Leftovers, Lost is everywhere in my life. It affected me. It addicted me. It’s when I truly, incontrovertibly, and eternally “fell” for the minx of television. She’s gorgeous.
Lost was a mystery. Why did the plane crash and where did it actually land? Can these people find a way back to the mainland? How many will die in the search for answers? Is something sinister at play? What the hell is this monster made out of black smoke? Is that a polar bear in a tropical climate? Why does backgammon seem to explain everything? Why does Jack constantly play In Utero in his jeep? Is this guy’s band supposed to be Oasis? Should Neil DeGrasse Tyson be narrating this? Who is this insane French woman? What on earth is the Dharma Initiative and what was their mission? The numbers man, the numbers! Why does it seem like everyone has some kind of connection? Oh, and why does this one dude never age?
Okay. See, we did crash, but it was on this crazy island. And we waited for rescue, and there wasn’t any rescue. And there was a smoke monster, and then there were other people on the island. We called them the Others, and they started attacking us. And we found some hatches, and there was a button you had to push every 108 minutes or… well, I was never really clear on that. But… the Others didn’t have anything to do with the hatches. That was the DHARMA Initiative. The Others killed them, and now they’re trying to kill us. And then we teamed up with the Others because some worse people were coming on a freighter. Desmond’s girlfriend’s father sent them to kill us. So we stole their helicopter and we flew it to their freighter, but it blew up. And we couldn’t go back to the island because it disappeared, so then we crashed into the ocean, and we floated there for a while until a boat came and picked us up. And by then, there were six of us. That part was true. But the rest of the people… who were on the plane? They’re still on that island. (Hugo Reyes – S5E2)
It was a series of mysteries, a web of questions with no answer, but that’s why it clicked. Lost worked so well because the chase is always better than the catch. I grew up a pro wrestling fan and worked in the business from 1999-2009. I now host a wrestling radio program in Nashville and write about the industry on another major website. In that business, it’s widely understood that people will pay to watch the hero chase the villain. They’ll do it over and over again. It’s why the best way to work a crowd psychologically is to give them what they want, not what they think they want. Give them the chase, but only when it’s right and proper, not to mention rare, do you give them the catch. Film, television, printed fiction, whatever it is, it all generally works the same way. Introduction, conflict, the hero or the protagonist put in a difficult spot that reaches a boiling point and finally some kind of resolution. Whether you like that resolution usually defines whether you enjoyed the ride, but I’ve always seen it differently. The ride is the treasure. Therefore, if the journey is unforgettable and its every mile addictive, the destination becomes a bonus.
Think back to a show like Frasier. The writers teased Niles and Daphne for seven years before putting them together. Chuck Bartowski and Sarah Walker weren’t “real” until the latter stages of the third season. Leonard and Penny got together to open the third Big Bang Theory season, then were broken up, but eventually put back together for good because the time was finally right. How long did Sons of Anarchy hold the last rites for Clay Morrow? How long will The Blacklist tease the Spader/Boone relationship purpose before finally revealing it? How long did Game of Thrones or Martin wait to get to the Purple Wedding? On Suits, Mike and Rachel were teased twice, broken up twice, and now might be solid. On Scandal, my god, Olivia and Fitz, that’s the prime example. Shonda Rhimes is a master of it.
The point here is that in all of those segments, while you THINK you want the result, once you get it, the show usually declines. What you really want is to continue thinking you want that result. It’s that desire to get to the final stop that keeps you coming back and keeps you talking to your friends about a show. The Office gave us Jim and Pam and then never broke them up, which was a great choice. They had a backup plan with Amy Ryan and Steve Carell that would become the new “it” thing. I could write a series of articles on the basic structure of television, with this concept being the main course.
As I settled in for “The End,” one of the more controversial series finales ever, Lost had already won my heart and mind. I loved the finish. I felt it summed things up in the only way mystery upon mystery could be determined. My own basic theory on the conclusion to Lost is that any shred of belief of some form of divine providence or ultimate purpose makes literally anything conceivably possible. All those mysteries, based on the last fifteen minutes, were explained in the very idea of God’s existence. Not any one God, but something beyond humanity. I found it simple, effective, and right.
I was in the minority. Correction: I was in the vast minority. Most critics, most fans, even longtime fans, particularly those who were more born and bred on sci-fi, loathed the finish to Lost to the point it’s even become a running joke. The reaction to certain decisions made on Lost was so strong that it bordered on the ridiculous. People were personally offended simply because they wanted something different.
Full disclosure, I discovered Lost much later than many, and it might explain why I rate it as highly as I do. I know full well ABC did a terrible job starting in Season 3 of scheduling the show. Fans had no idea when a new episode was coming. The network would run two new episodes and a month of repeats. The story, when broken up in that manner, can lose some of its bite because it’s easy to lose track or forget the nuance that makes it so great. I had vaguely heard about the show and dismissed it as I was focused on other things in my life. One day I decided I wanted to see it, and during the lead up to Season 6, a snowstorm gave me a week to do nothing but catch up. I barely slept. As someone who just loves an elaborate story, it felt made for me. I didn’t have to deal with ABC’s mistakes. I watched it all at my own pace, which was a binge watch, even though that term hadn’t yet become common.
It’s been six days, and we’re all still waiting. Waiting for someone to come. But what if they don’t? We have to stop waiting. We need to start figuring things out. A woman died this morning just going for a swim. He tried to save her and now you’re about to crucify him. We can’t do this. Every man for himself is not going to work. It’s time to start organizing.
We need to figure out how we’re going to survive here. Now I found water. Freshwater, up in the valley. I’ll take a party up there at first daylight. If you don’t want to come then find another way to contribute! Last week most of us were strangers. But we’re all here now. And God knows how long we’re going to be here. But if we can’t live togetherâ€”we’re gonna die alone. (Jack Shepherd, S1E5)
Here was a show that touched on love, on hate, on revenge, on greed, on luck, on fate, on physics, on philosophy, on mathematics, on mythology, and on the unexplained. If it was simply the story of the plane crash and the relationships on the island, I still would have enjoyed it. But Lost was all about its people’s entire lives and how they even got on the airplane in the first place. I’ve never been a fan of flashbacks, often feeling they can be lazy or distract from a plot or fill a few episodes to fit a long season. Lost completely changed my opinion.
Showrunners Carlton Cuse (Brisco County Jr, The Strain) and Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers, Star Trek) used flashbacks to tell a second set of character specific stories that provide more than mere context; the flashbacks made those who watched Lost…feel. Jack Shepherd (Matthew Fox) was a doctor and we see that on the island. But he was also a doctor involved in a complex relationship with his father, who once had a pill addiction, and who was incredibly unhappy.
Kate Austen (Evangeline Lilly) was hot and you could see she and Jack would probably hook up. That sounds crude but it’s included in that way for a reason. When you watch drama, particularly network drama, that’s usually what you’re supposed to see and await. But Kate Austen, through flashbacks, is much more than an island love interest. She was a longtime fugitive who was on the airplane along with a US Marshal. She actually murdered her mother’s abusive second husband, setting her on the path. Her story is much more complicated but the goal here is to make you want to watch these shows, not feel like you already have.
James “Sawyer” Ford (Josh Holloway) was a smooth, mouthy jerk with the kind of “bad boy” attitude we’re told all females pine for, but through flashbacks, we meet James Ford, come to understand why he took the moniker of “Sawyer,” and why he grew up without parents. A man who called himself Tom Sawyer conned Ford’s family and as a result, James’ father killed his wife and himself. The son remained, transfixed on avenging the loss of his family. He also became a conman, engaging in short and long schemes. He’s done prison time.
John Locke (Terry O’Quinn), whose character name was not an accident, seems to understand the larger picture on the island. He speaks in philosophic tones and seems to move without fear. But he grew up in foster homes, born to a teenage mother. He searches out and finds his father, befriends him, and gives him a kidney. His father conned him to get what he needed to survive and then deserts him, but the two find each other years later. In the end, Locke falls from an eighth-story window and breaks his back. He’s in a wheelchair, right up until the plane crash miraculously gives him the use of his body below the waist. Early on, he sees the crash and the situation as a saving grace and has no desire to leave the island.
Backgammon is the oldest game in the world. Archaeologists found sets when they excavated the ruins of ancient Mesopotamia. Five thousand years old. That’s older than Jesus Christ… Their dice were made of bones. Two players, two sides. One is light. One is dark. (John Locke, S1E2)
Each character has a backstory and we see it unfold in the flashbacks and, in later seasons, in the flash-forwards and flash-sideways ideas that led so many to define the final season or perhaps the entire series as a depiction of Purgatory. The above are just a few of the many examples. You meet Jin and Sun, a couple with a complicated past, Hurley, an overweight fun-loving guy whose personal luck and lack thereof seems to dictate everything that’s happened in his life, and so many others. As a full cast of characters, nothing touches Lost. I want to name them all and tell you story after story but I hope you either already have or are willing to take the journey even if you’re afraid the conclusion will be underwhelming. But one more…
Michael Emerson plays the mysterious and seemingly malicious Ben Linus, who was on the island long before the crash and, along with O’Quinn, won an Emmy for his portrayal. Both the performance and the depth of the character are both among my favorites ever and his subsequent work on Person of Interest has made the actor one of my all-timers on television.
And then there’s Desmond Hume. Ohhhhhh yeah and we can’t forget Charlie and Not Penny’s Boat.
Lost is definitely concerned with its characters getting off the island because it knows its audience wants answers. Lost also knows the questions are what really matter, not the answers to those questions. Once some do leave the island, the story forces them to return for a much grander purpose. Again, the pull of the show is so broad and encompasses so much. Once things shift to true love as awakening and the meaning of life explained in a chapel, it has done its job. It has entertained and enthralled and it has left an indelible imprint on those who watched. We all crashed. I was on Oceanic 815 and I know for a fact I’m better for it.
Do you really think all this is an accident — that we, a group of strangers survived, many of us with just superficial injuries? Do you think we crashed on this place by coincidence — especially, this place? We were brought here for a purpose, for a reason, all of us. Each one of us was brought here for a reason. (John Locke – S1E24)
Hundreds of award nominations, well-deserved Emmys for Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson and a Best Drama Emmy and Golden Globe for the show itself are just a few of the honors the show received through its six seasons. The Writers Guild ranked it the 27th best-written show in history. According to the Lost Wiki, for the first ten years of IMDBPro, Lost was the top rated program. It dominated the guild awards in 2005. The final season was nominated for 12 Emmys, including acting and writing awards. In addition to the aforementioned O’Quinn and Emerson, many Lost actors were nominated or won awards, including Matthew Fox, Elizabeth Mitchell, Evangeline Lilly, Naveen Andrews, and Jorge Garcia.
On my personal list of best single episodes of drama, The Constant (S4E5) is either first or tied for first with Breaking Bad’s Ozymandias and Mad Men’s The Suitcase. Ab Aeterno, Everybody Loves Hugo, and numerous other Lost episodes hold high positions on that ranking as well. Still today, the final eight minutes of the first season finale was the most affected I’ve ever been from TV, and again much of it has to do with Giacchino, whose musical work for Pixar and for JJ Abrams in Lost is nearly perfect. He’s been good for a long time and still puts out stellar stuff, but Lost’s musical arrangements and timing are on another level.
This was a network series with such obscene ambition that it had no hope of satisfying everyone, but stayed true to itself. It became complicated, leading some to desert the show, feeling overwhelmed. Cuse and Lindelof are two of the executive producer names that will stand the test of time. Some fans swore off anything the duo would ever do going forward because of how Lost ended. I vehemently disagree with them. Carlton Cuse has moved on to The Strain on FX, which is doing quite well critically. Damon Lindelof adapted Tom Perrotta’s book The Leftovers for an HBO series. The first season ends on Sunday and I’ve found it to be outstanding. As it continues to evolve, I see more and more of the reasons I love that little island story from ABC popping up.
It’s impossible to write any kind of effective summary of Lost because there’s just so much, from start to finish, to try and dissect. It’s a show that you have to see and experience to appreciate. It’s a story that has to grab hold of your life. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t come around very often. So many shows have tried to recapture any portion of Lost and almost all have failed. One that had some of the Lost crew behind it, along with Abrams, was Fringe. Unsurprisingly, I think once it truly “hit” midway through the first season, it was flat out awesome. It was ballsy television that again told its story, ratings be damned.
See you in another life, brother. (Desmond Hume)
How do I end a piece on Lost? What do I say to express the joy and incalculable entertainment it provided me? Should I talk about the wild discussions I had with my friends during the final season or the incomparable way I stared at a clock waiting for 9 PM? Can I talk about the tears I shed during the finale and actually in three or four episodes of the sixth season? Do I discuss why both Ben Linus and Jack Shepherd are two of “those” characters that make me so passionate about this medium? Do I explain what I think a smoke monster is or why white and black were so prevalent throughout the show? Do I list the entire cast and bow down to Cuse and Lindelof?
How do you END an article on the greatest trip you’ve ever taken?
It’s actually quite simple.
All six seasons of LOST are available on NETFLIX in addition to DVD and Blu-Ray.
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