Lost is the most underrated show of all time.
Yes, I know this flies in the face of its critical reception. Most people would say: “Uh, hold on. Just about everyone loved the show. They debated it, wrote essays about it, said it was one of the programs that began a television renaissance.”
But I’m not talking about the critics. If you bring up Lost in conversation, you’ll hear this: “Oh, isn’t that the show with the polar bears? I stopped watching that after, like, the first season.” And when you try to tell people otherwise — that the writing was superb, that it had more in common with literature than with television — they’d, pun not intended, tune you out.
Culture counts, and so how the average viewer thinks about the show will matter more than what, say, Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe does.
So, listen up, people who thought the show with the island somewhere in the South Pacific was too much: You missed out.
1.) Lost is life-affirming
Lost is the complete opposite of the programs dominating the airwaves today. Game of Thrones, House of Cards and Scandal all perpetuate a nihilistic vision of the human person. All of us are bad, they say. Some, though, are just worse than others.
But that’s not the case with J.J. Abrams’s masterpiece. All of its characters are deeply flawed, and, as the title suggests, lost. Some are running from the law because of crimes they’d committed. Others are recently paralyzed and are trying to find their place in the world. There are others who are trying to deal with negative traits like arrogance and overwhelming fear. And there are some who are dying and who are trying to live a few more moments before departing for the Hereafter.
Isn’t this what life is like, though? We’re all on a journey. We all wake up in the morning and ask “why am I here?” We screw up; we make amends. And, as Solzhenitsyn said, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” All of us have to struggle with, as Ray Bradbury put it, “the beast that can be heard raving” from the “private keep somewhere in the upper part of the head.”
2.) Lost‘s characters aren’t static
Vince Gilligan’s brilliant Breaking Bad often gets named as one of the first, if not the first, shows to take a mild-mannered lead character and turn him into a monster. Lost did the same thing, but on a grander scale.
One of the flaws of television — and I’m not the first to say this, of course — is that every single character stays the same. It would be odd to turn on CSI, for instance, and see a lengthy arc that ends with William Petersen’s Grissom snapping and taking hostages.
But why is that the case? It would certainly be more interesting — far more interesting, in fact — than the neat little way every episode concludes.
Lost, like Breaking Bad, shares much with the novel form. It is long and deliberate. We know, contrary to the theorizing of the internet, that Abrams, Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, and others knew what they wanted to do with the show right from the beginning.
Through flashback, we learn why these broken people ended up on the island, which was really a metaphor for self-improvement. It was a Purgatory for the living.
3.) The writing is stellar
You won’t hear any after-school special language on this show. The writing is crisp and thoughtful and even peppered with allusions to great works of philosophy and literature and theology.
Consider this now-famous exchange from the pilot:
John Locke: Backgammon is the oldest game in the world. Archeologists found sets when they excavated the ruins of ancient Mesopotamia. Five thousand years old. That’s older than Jesus Christ.
Walt Lloyd: Did they have dice and stuff?
John Locke: Mhhm. But theirs weren’t made of plastic. Their dice were made of bones.
Walt Lloyd: Cool.
John Locke: Two players. Two sides. One is light… one is dark.
Here we learn that the show is, as mentioned, about the clash between the light and the dark, both within our souls and in everyday life. That Locke mentions backgammon’s age is not without reason. After all, human nature never stops.
And this, too, from one of the later episodes:
Jacob: You call him “the monster.” But I’m responsible for what happened to him. I made him that way. And ever since then, he’s been trying to kill me. It was only a matter of time before he figured out how, and when he did, someone would have to replace me. And that’s why I brought you all here.
James “Sawyer” Ford: Tell me something, Jacob. Why do I gotta be punished for your mistake? What made you think you can mess with my life? I was doin’ just fine ’til you dragged my ass to this damn rock.
Jacob: No, you weren’t. None of you were. I didn’t pluck any of you out of a happy existence. You were all flawed. I chose you because you were like me. You were all alone. You were all looking for something that you couldn’t find out there. I chose you because you needed this place as much as it needed you.
These exchanges, these themes — that never become maudlin and always stay tight — are worthy of Flannery O’Connor, which shouldn’t be a surprise, because she’s one of the show’s many influences.
4.) As is the acting
Lost had many masterful performances, from Terry O’Quinn as John Locke to Michael Emerson as Benjamin Linus.
Check out this clip to see what I mean:
Had they not cast such skilled actors, I probably wouldn’t have wept during the series finale.
5.) Without Lost, there would be no Breaking Bad
It’s true. Many critics have said that Lost is one of the shows that ushered in television’s current renaissance. And it’s sort of ironic, in a way: Disney found the project extremely risky and fired the executive who gave it the green light.
Television then was all games and sitcoms and reality shows — as it is now, quite honestly — but networks, instead of taking chances, probably would have went with more of the same, if it weren’t for Lost.
And now, interestingly enough, it’s the movie studios that are terrified of doing anything exciting.
So that’s why you should go check out Lost. You won’t be disappointed.
Image illustrations via Lostpedia, Wired, and here