I miss Jack. I miss Sawyer and Hurley, Desmond and Ben. I miss Locke. I don’t miss Kate. I miss the Numbers and the polar bear and the Smoke Monster. I miss the mythology of L O S T as much as I miss the characters. Every time I start moving on from losing one of the greatest network shows ever, I get reminded of its greatness by all of the terrible, cynical imitations the networks throw at us every 4 to 8 months. Persons Unknown. The Event. Flash Forward. Heroes. (Yes, Heroes counts. It debuted the season after L O S T.) These (and I’m sure other, more forgettable) programs have taught me what made L O S T work. (Hint: it has nothing to do with the statue having four toes.)
Television, like the NFL, is a copy cat league. If one show about vampires gets its 15 minutes of fame (or an NFL team wins 16 games based on a new offensive idea), guess what you can expect the networks to trot out next season. (True Blood begot Vampire Diaries, the much less successful The Gates, and is at least partially responsible for Mtv’s “why does this even share the same name with…?” Teen Wolf.) This fall, NBC’s got a show set in the sixties about the Playboy Club, while ABC’s got one set in the sixties about Pan Am (which is cleverly titled, wait for it, Pan Am). I’m sure this coincidence has nothing to do with the critical acclaim of a little indie program you may have heard of called Mad Men, a show in which the sixties is as much a theme as it is a character as central to the story as Don Draper himself.
But is it the very act of copying another show’s formula that makes the replica worse? The answer is a resounding “yes and no.” If the creators of Pan Am sat in a room and said, “Mad Men‘s set in the sixties. We need a show set in the sixties.”, that show is doomed before it even started. That only serves to copy the show’s “hook” rather than the show’s essence. A good hook in and of itself isn’t enough to sustain a full 23 episode season. Mad Men is set in the sixties, but that’s not why it’s good. Likewise, mystery and mythology is not what set L O S T apart from the rest.
Benjamin Linus is one of the most dastardly, sinister villains in the history of television… and by the end of the show’s run, we pitied him (even liked him). He ranks among the most complex characters ever. John Locke has one of the most fascinating character arcs ever presented on network tv. (From wheelchair-bound toy store employee to evil yet sympathetic demigod. True story.) Even the vanilla-by-comparison Jack dealt with his own demons (substance abuse, undead father walking around on the island). L O S T was more than numbers and hatches. It was about characters. Somehow, the fine folks at ABC and NBC (And from what I hear about The Killing, AMC) overlooked characters and character development when creating their knock-off versions of it.
In Persons Unknown, the characters literally spell out which cardboard archetypes they each fulfill. (This is not an exact quote, but the dialogue was literally along the lines of: “What do I know? I’m just a bratty socialite.”) By the third episode (once I’d realized there would be no attempt to flesh out these characters), I no longer cared. At that point, the only thing driving the story were the seemingly unanswerable mysteries. I’ll admit, I watched another three episodes based solely on trying to figure out the big pay off. But without characters and relationships that I could buy into and invest in, the contrived, sometimes (Read: every time) ridiculous twists and turns held no weight. L O S T was about a bunch of castaways on a ever-moving, all-healing, wired for time-travel island. One time an atomic bomb exploded on it. These are ridiculous plot points and concepts, but they were just the scenery on the ride. It was always the characters and relationships that were driving L O S T.
Trying to synthesize the next L O S T in a lab is a pointless endeavor. After all, by the logic of network execs, wouldn’t L O S T itself have to come from some other idea? The show was an original, which is why whatever takes its place will be nothing like it. The next L O S T will most likely not be set on an island. It probably will not be centered around a rag-tag group of flawed saints and sympathetic miscreants thrust together in a cryptic, dire situation. (I’m talking to you, The Walking Dead.) Trying to figure out the mystery at hand will not be the driving force of every moment of every 42-minute (when you take out commercials) episode, even at the expense of developing relatable (likable) characters. (Cough cough, Flash Forward. Excuse me. Something in my throat.)
The next L O S T is going to be from somewhere we never saw coming, just like the Original.