First Night Review: Lost, Channel 4
TV's blockbuster import has permission to take off
Thursday 11 August 2005
We all try to ignore hype, but I have to admit that I've been looking forward to it the way you look forward to the box of chocolates you've got hoarded in a cupboard. In these situations, there's a fear that it might turn out a dud - perhaps somebody has got in there, nabbed all the chocolate caramels and substituted a bunch of cherry liqueurs. Lost, however, will satisfy even the sweetest tooth handsomely.
The series starts with a bang, as our hero, Dr Jack Shepard, wakes up in a jungle: within seconds, we discover that he is one of the survivors of a plane crash - the others are littering a nearby beach, along with parts of the plane, some of them still working. This opening sequence, with Dr Jack rushing around desperately tourniqueting arteries and pumping hearts back to life, was virtuoso television, with all the pace and throwaway drama we've come to expect from the best US television - close kin to those extraordinarily action-packed walkabouts you get in the corridors and hallways of ER and The West Wing.
One of the highlights of last night's two-part opener - reputedly the most expensive television drama ever made - was a tiny moment in this chaos.
Amid the tumult - five solid minutes of drumbeats, screams and whirring jet-engines - a man paused momentarily in the background, next to a still-spinning turbine, and suddenly, ssshhhhlup, he was sucked off his feet and into the jet's intake. Kaboom! - flames everywhere. I loved the profligacy, the sense that the producers had money and, hell, actors to burn.
When it comes to discreet, deadpan comedy, or wildlife documentaries, British television is, we're all agreed, the best in the world; but it can never afford to serve up the sheer abundance of a programme like this, with its vast cast (48 of them got out of the plane alive), and attendant multiplicity of storylines, twists and bizarre reversals of fortune. With its leviathan budgets, Lost can recreate just a little bit of the richness and randomness of real life. Still, what makes the series particularly promising is that - like Shannon, the spoilt blonde brat who finds time among the mayhem to give herself a pedicure - it hardly cares about real life.
Like a lot of recent American series - Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Buffy - it offers a sense that the world we know is separated by the merest whisper from a completely different one, with new rules of morality, and even of physics. In Lost, the survivors aren't just coping with the expected dilemmas of food, medicine and keeping a signal-fire burning: they have an invisible but clearly huge and vicious monster on the loose (that's in addition to the polar bear that has somehow blundered into these tropical latitudes). And loose ends and red herrings litter the undergrowth, so that it's a wonder anybody can walk anywhere. Why was the lovely Kate in handcuffs? What are those unhappily married but otherwise inscrutable Koreans talking about? Who is sending out distress signals in French? Above all, how do we account for the sheer numbers of slim, attractive young women who survived an air crash with so little damage to their make-up?
Forget about that diet: gorge yourself sick.
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