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TELEVISION & RADIO

`Lost' writers know just where they are

ABC's hit drama returns, with more peeling away of the characters' layers about their past and present.

February 07, 2007|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

It takes a village to make a TV show, and two islands to make "Lost." When last we left them in November, Sawyer and Kate were having prison sex and Jack was in surgery, forced to remove a tumor from the mercurial villain Ben, head of the mysterious island sect called the Others.

It was Jack's bad fortune to catch Sawyer and Kate going at it on the bank of monitors on which the Others otherwise watch for intruders. Given the depressing infrequency with which the castaways engage in coitus, Jack's dumb luck seemed doubly humiliating: Not only did he not get the girl, he had to settle for a hamburger and the news that the Red Sox had won the World Series.

Matthew Fox (Jack), Josh Holloway (Sawyer) and Evangeline Lilly (Kate) continue their pas de trois tonight on "Lost," which returns for 16 straight weeks of new episodes after another confusing hiatus. Sending out an advance screener to television journalists isn't the "Lost" way, and it smacked of an attempt to drum up support. After all, ABC has been justly criticized for playing too many games with the show's scheduling, while network TV's other grizzled serial, "24," seems far more comprehensible in scheduling play dates between terrorists and heroes.

But the comparison is not quite fair, because "Lost," while not as coherently gimmicky as "24," is more ambitious, cinematically and otherwise. Indeed, the show has accrued so many characters and story lines in its third season that the opening credits now run deep into Act 1, and are mostly a salute to actors who have the week off. Naveen Andrews, Jorge Garcia, Daniel Dae Kim, Terry O'Quinn, Dominic Monaghan, Emilie de Ravin -- none of them appears in tonight's episode. (Though by the end of the hour, I was hopeful.)

Let's call them the Originals, Sayid and Locke and them, as opposed to the Others. For some time now, "Lost" has been hinting that at the crux of its science-fiction setup is some alternasocietal thought experiment, or perhaps just a faraway place where stem-cell research can be conducted in peace. I frankly don't care, because to me the emptiest criticism about the show is that it doesn't know where it's going or, alternately, is creating too many plots, subplots and such to remain cohesive.

True, the opening credits have become a big lie (Oh, yeah? Naveen Andrews is in this episode? How about Lindsay Lohan?), but the point of "Lost" is its own silly ambition: It began with a spectacular action sequence -- a plane crash on a remote island, people falling out of the sky -- only to argue, via personalized flashback and some fairly bad acting, that it was actually a show about character, and how one's past must be reckoned with in the present. All of this, combined with the island's otherworldly elements -- polar bears, mysterious underground portals, French expats -- led you to conclude you were watching psychological sci-fi. Are all these crash survivors actually dead? Is "Lost" "Limbo"?

I simply don't have time in my daily life to pour over all the data; for now, I'm operating on the theory that the producers concluded, over mai tais one night in Hawaii, that absolute certainty, in art as well as life, is overrated.

I quite agree, and I don't even get to enjoy sunsets on the North Shore of Oahu, where the show is filmed. If, for the sake of argument, the makers of "Lost" haven't decided where it's all going, and only invented last season's hatch or this season's bunker of the Others to keep below-the-line overtime down, the ambiguity only makes it a more realistic approach to storytelling.

For story is supposed to involve a process of discovery, a burrowing into the unknown, an ever-deepening examination of character. It's the most charitable metaphor I can come up with for the show's mystery-wrapped-in-an-enigma.

Not that "Lost" is always true to this principle. Tonight's episode, in addition to turning on the usual (extreme close-ups, tidy back story and cello sounds), turns on Jack asking Kate to recall a story he told her in the immediate aftermath of the plane crash.

She's been through some trauma lately, but she finds the anecdote in an instant.

"Lost" is a cartoon, and its psychology is less than rigorous. In this, alas, it's perfectly predictable.

paul.brownfield@latimes.com

*

`Lost'

Where: ABC

When: 10 to 11 tonight

Rating: TV-14-V (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14, with an advisory for violence)

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