Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox) wanders around an isolated beach for a few minutes and then realizes other people need help. He rushes to a pregnant woman, Claire (Emilie de Ravin) who is being comforted by an overweight man, Hurley (Jorge Garcia). Soon, people realize they have survived a plane crash. They manage to move Claire right before an engine explodes. Eventually, the survivors learn that Jack is a doctor and they look to him for leadership and guidance. Jack is attracted to a mysterious woman, Kate (Evangeline Lilly) and Sawyer (Josh Holloway) seems to be unaffected by the crash, hoarding valuable items (aspirin, glasses, etc.), using them as currency. A father and son, Michael and Walt (Harold Perrineau and Malcolm David Kelley) are working on their strained relationship while trying to survive the island. Sayid (Naveen Andrews) is a sort of counterpart to Jack, providing expertise on electronics and Locke (Terry O'Quinn) seems to have all the survivalist instincts they will need to survive. A Korean couple (Daniel Dae Kim and Yoon-jin Kim) struggle to communicate with the English speaking survivors. Finally, Boone and Shannon (Ian Somerhalder and Maggie Grace), step-siblings, struggle to get along. As they learn some of the secrets of their new home, they also learn that each of the castaways have secrets. Which will prove the more dangerous?
When I first heard the concept for "Lost" (the complete "Season 1" is available on DVD), I was intrigued. A dramatic "Gilligan's Island"? A fictionalized "Survivor"? I'm usually willing to give even the most far-fetched ideas a try. If they don't prove compelling, I tune out after one episode, but if they manage to lure me in, I'll stick around. "Lost" lured me in, but in my mind, I promised that the first time they tried to make a coconut radio, I was tuning out.
What I didn't expect was the quality of "Lost". Fine, compelling performances married to good writing hooked me almost instantly. This is the type of show we have recently had to turn to HBO or Showtime for refuge. Granted, the characters never swear and nudity is non-existent, but network television has shied away from multi-episode storylines. On most dramas, everything has to happen in the space of 44 minutes. Next week, new story, new 44 minutes. (Yes, an hour long drama contains about 16 minutes of commercials.) In "Lost", the characters still don't know everything about their new island home, and the second season is set to start in a few weeks.
The first episode begins with the survivors on the beach. As they interact, fully realizing their situation, we see flashbacks to the moments on the passenger jet before it crashed. Each person was in a different area, so they all have different memories of what happened. What soon becomes apparent is that all of these survivors were in the same section of the plane. Where did the other sections of the plane end up? Where there any other survivors? In one episode, a married woman sits at the edge of the beach in shock. Jack walks over to comfort her. He learns that her husband was in the back of the plane. Jack tells her he is sure that he didn't suffer. "Oh, he's not dead". "But there were no other survivors." "They probably think that about us as well."
Throughout the season, creators J.J. Abrams ("Alias"), Jeffrey Lieber and Damon Lindelof have peppered strange incidents into the storyline. The survivors have had a couple of run ins with a large beast only they have seen. They have also killed a polar bear. A polar bear on a desert island? And they found a French woman, the survivor of a shipwreck 16 years earlier, who keeps talking about "them".
The bit about the people on the other parts of the airplane is ingenious. From a dramatic standpoint, it gives the show creators license to introduce new characters and new storylines. If things get a little stale with the core group of survivors, someone can walk dazedly out of the jungle and we'll accept it.
From a production standpoint, the producers have done a brilliant thing. I'm sure many fans will disagree, but a core member of the group was killed off in season 1, providing a lot of drama. It also told the rest of the cast that they are not expendable. Yes, the story is set on a deserted island but we can introduce new people and we can kill off boring, stale characters. The producers sent a loud and clear message. "We will not be held ransom by huge salary demands", something that happens with almost every hit show.
The strange incidents are compelling because they aren't consistent. One episode may have a brief encounter with the large beast, another may have Locke trying to unearth a metal hatch in the ground before returning to the main story. This works, because it keeps us guessing.
Watching a show about a group of people on a desert island is interesting, but it can also become a bit stifling. Each episode tells basically two stories; the current events of the survivors on the island and a back-story involving one of the main characters, depicting the events leading up to them boarding the plane. For instance, if Jack is facing a weighty decision on the island, the story is intercut with one of the back stories involving his father. A back-story about Hurley winning the lottery proves to have a strange and unexpected connection to the survivors on the island. These back stories help to open up the show, taking us off of the island, maintaining our interest. Even more important, all of these back stories are connected to the main story, that of the survivors. It would be a completely different beast if the stories had no connection and nowhere near as compelling.
"Lost" is a fine example of what television can do when everything works. If you haven't already seen the first season, this is your chance to catch up. Don't get lost when the second season begins