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TELEVISION REVIEW

Surviving the fear factor

September 22, 2004|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

The first thing you see on "Lost," a new ABC drama premiering tonight at 8, is a close-up shot of an eye popping open. The camera pulls back to reveal a man in a suit, with cuts on his face, lying in a dense jungle. He is shivering. Incongruously, a dog appears out of the brush and bounds past. The man sits up, then stands. He feels into his jacket pocket and removes a mini-bottle of booze. The music stirs and he realizes; soon he is running. Running through the jungle. He arrives at an idyllic beach and into the wreckage and chaos of a downed commercial airliner, some of it on fire, various people in various stages of screaming distress. The man begins rather efficiently to tend to the injured and near-dead, running here and there and even displaying an instantly endearing sense of humor (Pregnant woman: "I'm having contractions." Man: "That's not ideal"). He administers CPR to one victim just as he sees a huge piece of the plane's wing about to break off and crush two others. He gets the woman breathing again, then runs to save the day under the wing. There is another explosion. Fireballs crash to the sand.

At this point, "Lost" was not yet 10 minutes old, and I was already prepared to declare it the most exciting new show of the fall season. But by the end of the episode I also had a sinking feeling: The premise would, by definition, keep spinning away from those first, glorious, bone-tingling 10 minutes until "Lost" had become one of those shows I kind of cared about but no longer felt the need to watch, instead asking friends to keep me informed. So what's happening on the island?

"Lost" is about 48 survivors of a plane crash who find themselves stranded on a remote island that also has some kind of supernatural "it" lurking in the jungle terrain. This makes them not only lost but perhaps also in imminent peril.

The show is from a team including J.J. Abrams, who makes highly watchable, exceedingly slick television that seems less to have a point of view than a honed eye for recent reference points in pop culture. His first series, the WB's "Felicity," was about a young woman who follows her high school crush to college, ending up in a Lilith Fair version of New York City instead of Stanford, and he followed that up with the spy-tinged "Alias," starring Jennifer Garner, which sort of ripped off "La Femme Nikita" and sort of "Felicity," so that it might have been called "La Femme Felicity."

"Lost," which has the lavish production value of the top series on TV, is like "Survivor" but also like "King Kong" (the remake, not the original), or maybe the "Anaconda" movies, with some M. Night Shyamalan thrown in. And then of course it has some "Cast Away" in it, only with more people, obviously, and no volleyballs.

The island on "Cast Away" was remote but pastoral and contemplative, the sort of place where you would turn to arts and crafts. The island on "Lost" is equally remote, but this only spells foreboding.

We learn this in the pilot, as our hero doctor, Jack (Matthew Fox, a nice choice), and Kate (Evangeline Lilly) go looking for the wrecked cockpit in the jungle. Joining them is another survivor, Charlie (Dominic Monaghan), a junkie rock musician. They find the cockpit, and the pilot is alive, but soon he isn't. I'll leave it there.

At that point, the plot thickens, and meanwhile we get to know some of the other survivors. They, too, turn out to be a cross-section of cultural reference points. There's an Iraqi who fought in the Gulf War for the Republican Guard, a snotty young blond chick who sunbathes amid the wreckage, and a Zen-like older gentleman who reminded me of Rudy from one of the early "Survivors." There's also an alarmingly stereotyped Asian couple. Cultures collide, personalities clash, alliances form. There are flashbacks to the plane, which serve to reveal secrets about our cast members.

These scenes are disturbing -- the reliving, again and again, of that dreaded moment on a plane before it crashes, when it's just hurtling, out of control, to the ground. "Lost" is very comprehensible this way, lucid -- it knows the buttons it wants to push (fear of flying, fear of abandonment, fear of the unknown) and pushes them, repeatedly, like a kid playing a video game.

*

`Lost'

Where: ABC

When: 8-9 tonight

Rating: TV-14, V. May not be suitable for children under 14, with an advisory for violence.

Matthew Fox...Jack

Evangeline Lilly...Kate

Ian Somerhalder...Boone

Dominic Monaghan...Charlie

Jorge Garcia...Hurley

Maggie Grace...Shannon

Naveen Andrews...Sayid

Harold Perrineau...Michael

Terry O'Quinn...Locke

Daniel Dae Kim...Jin

Yunjin Kim...Sun

Executive producers, J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, Bryan Burk. Creators, Abrams, Lindelof. Writers, pilot, Abrams, Lindelof. Director, Abrams.

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