Imagine being marooned on a desert island in a plane crash with forty-plus other people. The plane was off-course, no one knows where you are. You’re running out of food, water, supplies. Things look grim. Slowly you discover that some of the people on the island with you are not what they appear to be. Even worse, the same is true of the island. You are well and truly Lost.
Season One of Lost, now out on DVD, sets up what may be the beginning of a long-running tv show (or maybe not — more on that later). As our castaways try to survive, they learn that some sort of unseen monster prowls the island, and that others are on the island.
The show is basically a gimmick show, with two great gimmicks. The first gimmick is the dramatic structure of the show which is a terrific idea. While we follow the adventures of our stranded castaways, we also relive moments of their lives in flashbacks. Why were each of these people of that particular flight? The flashbacks are a great way of filling in the backstory of the characters. We, as the audience, learn so much about these characters, way more in fact than the rest of the islanders do, and we understand a character’s motivation for doing something, even when their comrades do not. A brilliant conceit and it makes for riveting television.
Number two, the island itself holds many secrets and mysteries. What about the hatch? What’s with the polar bears? Who are the others? What’s up with the invisible monster? Is the kid psychic or telekinetic? And this is the gimmick which may be the show’s downfall.
A show relying on a mystery or a gimmick to survive may collapse under the weight of its own backstory (witness The X-Files). If you’re not playing fair with your audience and revealing some of the mystery of the island, your audience will leave you, um, deserted.
This season’s Lost ratings are suffering. Could it be that the gimmick has worn off already? Only time will tell.