Been gone for ages again. Sorry. At least it's for a good reason, having been knee-deep in a new script and dabbling in the short story form, the results of which may (or may not) be posted here some time in the future.
Anyway, on to today's rant.
And, boy, is it a big one!
I hate Lost.
I really, REALLY have a problem with it.
Before I launch in, first a little context. Being in Australia we're now about half-way through the second season. I, along with my partner Amy, was an avid viewer of the first season - like the rest of Australia it seems - but my interest only stretched to about ten episodes whereby I swore off the thing, I thought mostly because of the constant teasing nature of the narrative. I was thoroughly p*ssed off at being told "Next Week: You'll finally find out the big secret of the monster on the island!" and it just not happening. Even the presence of the gorgeous Evangeline Lilly wasn't enough to keep me tuned in. Amy continued to watch it, and still does to this day.
In the intervening months between then and now I have had, on more than one occasion, heated arguments with friends about its relative merits, each time becoming more and more fervent in my hatred of it. I'm apparently in the minority thinking that it's bad television. I was able to live-and-let-live though, as I'm out at work when it airs so Amy doesn't have to put up with my protestations. Equilibrium was reached.
Then last week, I received an email from PK back in England, one of my oldest friends, that went a little something like this:
Have you watched 'Lost'? I've started watching it and it's fantastic!! So well written and completely gripping!
Talk about a red rag to a bull!
I actually feel a bit sorry for him as I vaulted right up on to my high horse and laid in to him like never before. It wasn't that I said he shouldn't like it, or that I thought any less of him because he does, but I tore the show apart and managed to offend him in the process. Perhaps it was because I told him I thought it was a show for stupid people, I'm not sure. I was just unable to keep a lid on it.
I think I have a right to hate it, though, and it's coming totally from a writer's point of view. I consider the precedent that Lost is setting to be damaging for narrative drive in film and TV. Of its typical 45 minute running time, often considerably more than HALF of that is flashback, or backstory as it's termed in Hollywood. For those of you reading this who don't write, you must know that backstory has to be handled very carefully and executed with great skill to drive the present narrative. After all, in a flashback we are watching something that has happened in the past which the character has moved on from because he/she is here in the narrative present. We don't think, in a flashback, "Wow! I wonder what will happen to them next? Will they make it out? How will they be changed?" because we already know the answers to those questions. A character can't lose a leg in a flashback, for instance, because they would be without that leg in the present, of course. To quote Robert McKee, "Powerful revelations come from the backstory - previous significant events in the lives of the characters that the writer can reveal at critical moments to create turning points." Those revelations are supposed to create turning points that turn the story in the present.
Lost doesn't do that. Lost substitutes exhaustive filmed backstory for genuine narrative turning points that move the story forward. It seems to be very much the case of the writers being unable to think of something to propel the narrative along, so instead they'll film another week of one of the ensemble casts' pasts. And coming from the man behind Alias, which had one of the most pacy and dynamic narrative builds I've ever seen on television, this is terribly disappointing. Partially it's because Abrams and his writers have given themselves very little to work with, dealing with a bunch of people on a deserted island. And now, with the monster being revealed as a cloud of growling black smoke it's just getting silly.
The reason why you don't see this level of backstory on screen is because it slows down the pace and has the audience continually living in the past. Writers are taught that it is bad practice. Abrams and his team are breaking one of the most important rules in screenwriting (The narrative must move forward) and, because others know not to, are being lauded for the originality of their show.
The most worrying factor is that there are likely to be many more shows that ape the design of Lost in Production Exec's in-boxes across the world. I for one hope Lost's current malaise in terms of viewers (now down by almost half on Season One here in Australia) causes a lot of those me-too's to be aborted before a penny is spent.