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Exit, Stage Right

By David Michael Wharton     November 21, 2005

The cast of LOST.
Of all the mysteries that inhabit the island on LOST, perhaps none is as compelling as this: do these writers have a friggin' clue what they're doing or not?

The argument has been seething almost since the series premiere. The haters slam the show for stalling, accuse the writers of playing an elaborate shell game with the audience in order to disguise the fact that they're making it up as they go along. The apologists retort that Abrams, Lindelof, Cuse, and company have a master plan, but they'll only unspool it at the pace of their chosing. When we ended the first season with a much-hyped reveal that wound up being nothing more than a lingering shot of a ladder? That was planned. When the show's myriad maddening mysteries are back-burnered to make room for seemingly irrelevant flashback material? Part of the plan. When damn near nothing happens for several episodes in a row? You got it: plan.

Of course, nobody really knows. The wizards behind LOST's curtain haven't been above doublespeak and seeming contradiction when it comes to trying to throw viewers off the scent of the show's upcoming narrative direction. (Or, contrarywise, aren't above verbal tap-dancing so we don't notice that the Wizard is a wee little man with some fancy gadgets at his disposal.) It's impossible to guess how much of a plan, if any, the writers had at the beginning, or have developed since then.

Of course, it doesn't help when you read something like this.

Given how much effort the writers seem to go to to seed the "cursed numbers" throughout the show, it's more than a little disheartening to hear not only that the writers themselves may have no clue what those numbers mean, but that they may not even ever attempt to answer the questions they've raised. Which raises a further point: does it matter if LOST has a master plan?

There's no shortage of examples of what can happen when a show that makes its name on compelling mysteries and complex mythologies runs aground of the fact that the people at the helm didn't plan ahead and subsequently wrote themselves into a corner. TWIN PEAKS and X-FILES are two perfect examples. In the former, the writers never seemed to have given any thought to how to sustain the story past the revelation of Laura Palmer's killer; in the second, the writers seemed perpetually unable to settle on a cohesive truth that was supposed to be out there, resulting in a series that slowly spiraled deeper and deeper into incoherence and contradiction. Fans are already complaining that LOST is giving us too little, too slow, to inconsistently. If the writers truly don't have at least a rough plan for where the story is going, ABC's hit show could begin bleeding viewers sooner rather than later.

On the other hand, there are also shows that prove that the "make it up as you go" approach can work as well. 24's producers have readily admitted in several interviews that they typically only plan a few episodes ahead at a time. It's an approach that gives uneven fruits, as the adventures of Jack Bauer have had plenty of weak moments, but those have been outweighed by the fact that when it's good, it's really good, and it's really good a lot of the time.

For my money, I don't care whether there's a "five-year plan" for LOST. Not every show has to follow in the footsteps of BABYLON 5. But given the time I'm investing in the show, the time the fans are spending debating theories, posting speculations, and picking apart every bit of background minutia, is it too much to ask that the writers come up with something? Just some vague concept of where we're headed. Seriously, just stop what you're doing. Take a group trip out to the woods, where it's quiet, sit down, and come up with a plan. I don't care if it involves government experiments, alien abductions, or, God help me, even Patrick Duffy stepping out of the shower. But come up with something that at least loosely connects all these dots you've dumped on us over the past season and a half. I don't even care if it's that good a good plan. Just come up with one.


And come up with something good for the Numbers. I think you at least owe us that much.

* * * * *

My first TV Wasteland column was published here on Cinescape on October 18, 2004, a little over a year ago. Fifty-five columns, by my count, counting this one. And boy are my arms tired.

It's been a lot of fun, not the least thanks to the kind correspondence, occasional personal assaults, and semi-frequent death threats from you, my readership. But now, alas, other projects call me yonder and so I pass the yoke of TV Wasteland onto Whoever Comes Next (I actually have a pretty good idea who comes next, but I don't want to spoil the surprise).

In closing, I'll just say, thanks to everybody for reading. Thanks for writing in, even if it was only to question my sanity or my upbringing. It's been real. And for those of you nutty enough to actually want to keep tabs on me, I'll still be around here and there. Feel free to drop me line at inhetet@hotmail.com with your comments.

This concludes our broadcast.

* * * * *


SURFACE (7 PM CST, NBC) Laura and Rich are stuck on the bottom of the ocean until the Beatles paddle by in their Yellow Submarine and save the day.

BEYOND 'THE WAR OF THE WORLDS' (7 PM CST, History) A look back at the history and many storied adaptations of H.G. Wells' 1898 classic.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (7:30 PM CST, CBS) "Belly Full of Turkey." The gang volunteer at a homeless shelter on Thanksgiving.

PRISON BREAK (8 PM CST, Fox) "Odd Man Out." They've got a few too many cons in on the plan, and I don't think the decision of who gets to stay incarcerated will be made via paper/rock/scissors.

MEDIUM (9 PM CST, NBC) "Still Life." The show embraces the spirit of sweeps by broadcasting in 3-D. Plus, it digitally inserts Rod Serling from archive footage to introduce the episode, which isn't at all in bad taste.


BONES (7 PM CST, Fox) "A Man on Death Row." Not even all the way through season one and already they're turning to the "an innocent man on death row" trope.

GILMORE GIRLS (7 PM CST, WB) "He's Slippin' 'Em Bread…Dig?" This show continues to be the most creatively titled on television.

I'M KING KONG! THE EXPLOITS OF MERIAN C. COOPER (7 PM CST, TCM) Profiling the infamous filmmaker and adventurer, with comments from historians, actors, and Ray Bradbury.

HOUSE (8 PM CST, Fox) "Hunting." House must deal with an AIDS patient whose symptoms puzzle the doc.

MY NAME IS EARL (8 PM CST, NBC) "Cost Dad the Election." Beau Bridges guests as Earl and Randy's pop.

SUPERNATURAL (8 PM CST, WB) "Asylum." No horror series is complete without at least one trip to an insane asylum, but I still bet it's not anywhere near as creepy as Brad Anderson's SESSION 9.

KING KONG (8 PM CST, TCM) Before Peter Jackson unveils his multimillion-dollar remake, catch the original ape.

THE OFFICE (8:30 PM CST, NBC) "E-mail Surveilance." Michael begins spying on everyone's emails and gets in a snit when he's not invited to an after-work party.

THRESHOLD (9 PM CST, CBS) "Progeny." The show moves to Tuesday. Schedule changes are never a good sign for a freshman show, so I wouldn't hold my breath for this one surviving the season.

NIP/TUCK (9 PM CST, FX) "Madison Berg." Christian and Kimber get the proverbial cold feet as their nuptials approach.


LOST (8 PM CST, ABC) "Collision." In the spirit of Dave Matthews, the two groups of castaways crash into each other.

VERONICA MARS (8 PM CST, UPN) "Ahoy Mateys." The parents of one of the bus victims hire Keith to investigate who is harassing them.

INVASION (9 PM CST, ABC) "The Dredge." Dave investigates a hurricane-survivor support group, while Russell investigates toxic areas in the swamp. Do I smell a Swamp Thing crossover?

SOUTH PARK (9 PM CST, Comedy Central) "Helen Keller! The Musical." What could I possibly say that that title doesn't say better?

DRAWN TOGETHER (9:30 PM CST, Comedy Central) After catching an online virus, Spanky is forced to marry Xandir in order to qualify for medical insurance.



EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS (7 PM CST, UPN) "Everybody Hates Greg." Well, that's hardly fair to Greg.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (7 PM CST, AMC) In case you need some suggestions for creative mashed potato presentation.

WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY: FINDING NEMO (7:30 PM CST, ABC) Enjoy cute anthropomorphized animals while eating a dead bird.


STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (7 PM CST, Fox) I would enjoy this more if the title were phrased "Star Wars Episode II: When Clones Attack!"

GHOST WHISPERER (7 PM CST, CBS) "Ghost Bride." Not as cool as a Corpse Bride, but what can you do?

NUMBERS (9 PM CST, CBS) "Toxin." Don and Charlie investigate tainted prescription drugs.

MASTERS OF HORROR (9 PM CST, Showtime) "Chocolate." A divorced man begins to experience life through the senses of the woman for whom he falls. No participles dangled here, biyatch!


VERONICA MARS (7 PM CST, UPN) "Ahoy Mateys." If you missed it Wednesday, watch it now.

THE BIG SLEEP (7 PM CST, TCM) Bogie does Chandler.

THE GOONIES (7 PM CST, ABC Family) They never say die, you know.

MANTICORE (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) Wow, they're really running out of monsters for these things, aren't they?


THE SIMPSONS (7 PM CST, Fox) "The Last of the Red Hot Mamas." Lily Tomlin guests as one of Marge's crazy new friends.

CHARMED (7 PM CST, WB) "Vaya Con Leos." The sisters cast a spell to protect Leo, but alas, it goes awry.

FAMILY GUY (8 PM CST, Fox) "Fat Guy Strangler." Robert Downey, Jr. voices Lois' long-lost brother, a long-time inmate at an insane asylum.

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (8 PM CST, ABC) "That's Good, That's Bad." Bree gets all stalk-ified, courtesy of that creepy-ass pharmacist.

BERMUDA TRIANGLE: STARTLING NEW SECRETS (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) I'm sure this isn't at all a crass ploy to hype the upcoming TRIANGLE miniseries.

AMERICAN DAD (8:30 PM CST, Fox) "Star Trek." Steve's English paper about Roger winds up getting published and winning him fame as a children's author.


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mckracken 11/21/2005 11:00:43 PM
hey Wharton you will be missed... I only hope the grass is greener on the other side of the fence bud! for all the bellyaching people have complained about Lost, they always fail to mention the start of season two, more specifically the first two episodes of season two (the hatch plotline was resolved 100%) episode 2 (the raft survivors plot was resolved) ok so they introduced Desmond and send him fleeing into the jungle in fear.. ok so theres another can of worms... big deal. ok so they introduced Anna and Eko and Libby and Bernard. so you still want answers? 4 8 15 16 23 42 play those in the lotto next time and shove it... LOST is one great show! I dont need to know what they are or why they do what they do... that mystery doesnt need answering. the numbers just need to keep reappearing!!
snallygaster 11/22/2005 6:57:19 AM
I'm still enjoying Lost as much in the second season as the first. I once saw Abrams quoted that he was aware of the pitfalls of shows that offered too many questions and not enough resolutions, and he even used The X-Files and Twin Peaks as examples. As the saying goes, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Abrams at least seems aware of why these earlier series ultimately failed and is hopefully taking steps to avoid the same fate. On the other side of that coins Abram's series Alias had two kick-ass seasons in it before it jumped the shark. So maybe there is some truth in Abrams having only two seasons of Lost outlined.
snallygaster 11/24/2005 7:13:17 AM
IMO, Alias lost some of what made it special with Season 3 when it almost dropped Syndey's personal life altogether. In the first two seasons, Syd had friends outside of her spy world, Will and Franci, which I thought presented a nice balance to the frenetic pace of her real job. At the same time, she had to present an alias to them that she was a student and an intern with a banking company (which she used as a cover for her frequent unexpected globe-hopping trips). Her recent surprise encounter with one of her old professors during a mission was a cute reminder of the show's early days. In Season 2 they introduced Sydney's mother, Irina Derevko, which I thought made the show even better (particularly her impact on Sydney and Jack). But with Season 3, they lost Lena Olin as a permanenent cast member, and I thought things really began to get silly as more lost family members cropped up - all being secret agents of course. I think the show just became a bit too ... incestuous, if you will, by having everybody being an agent of some sort or another. Then the fourth season really tested credibility by having Sloan working for the CIA in charge of the unit with Sydney, Jack and the others. Granted, Alias has always stretched credibility, but usually made it make sense within the show's own world. But for the CIA to put Sloane (a known terrorist mastermind) in charge of a covert group - consisting of a staff of which he had ordered the deaths of numerous of their loved ones - was really hard to swallow. If you only started watching it last season, go rent the first two seasons on DVD, and I'll think you'll see the difference. I still watch the show, even after swearing it off on a couple of occasions. It may not be what it used to be, but even a less-than-great Alias is still better than most of the crap on TV today. And now that I just saw on today's Cinescape news that this will be the last season of Alias, I do feel compelled to ride it out to the


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