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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Lost'

Season 5 premieres with little hope that the sci-fi island drama can tie up all the loose ends. But who's watching for that?

January 21, 2009|Robert Lloyd | TELEVISION CRITIC

"Lost," which returns for its fifth season tonight on ABC, is like a troublesome but attractive friend who comes into your house and talks a lot of nonsense that you tolerate because it's entertaining and because you aren't completely sure it is nonsense. It might make sense in some form of the language that you do not personally understand. You can either let this annoy you, or you can try to work out the meaning, or you can just enjoy the flow in a noncommittal way that does not preclude your being stimulated, shocked or held in suspense -- like a fun-house ride.

I am of the third disposition, and have also been of the first. (I wager that even people who love "Lost" a lot more than I do have at times wanted to reach right through the TV screen and give it a good slap.) As to the second, attempting to resolve all its clues, bread crumbs and loose ends into a workable whole is more than my time is worth. More important, it's a drag on the show: The more that the writers find explanations for the myriad strange phenomena that plague the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 -- the surviving survivors -- the less interesting those phenomena become. The mysterious becomes the merely preposterous. The weirdness of a polar bear on a tropical island is more satisfying than any reason you can provide for it.

Or take the "Valenzetti Equation," the pesky sequence of numbers that pops up everywhere in the series and which has been revealed (via the official Web component) to be the elements of a formula that will predict "the exact number of years and months until humanity extinguishes itself." (Research commissioned by . . . the U.N.!) Well, you just have to look the other way.

Although the series is now headed toward a definite conclusion, a little more than a year away, there is no way that whatever happens from here on in will account for everything that has happened up until now. The writers have been too profligate with the apparitions and coincidences to wrap them up neatly. But more recent mysteries -- how Locke (Terry O'Quinn) wound up in a coffin, for example -- are already being addressed.

These are generally good times for "Lost." After a less than compelling third season, last year's temporal recalibration -- ditching the flashbacks for the flash-forwards -- kicked the engines back into gear. New people with guns arrived. And the whole Kate-Sawyer-Jack thing that once seemed so central to the plot but had grown so tiresome has been, for the moment, put on hold.

When we last saw our heroes and/or villains, back in 2005, Island time, Ben (Michael Emerson) was turning a big wheel in a frozen underground chamber in order to "move" the island out of harm's way, the rescue ship that was no rescue ship blew to pieces and the island disappeared along with half the cast. Tonight we will catch up with the remaining islanders, who have become unglued in time, ricocheting around in the past and possibly the future. For a show on which already no character is ever so dead he can't return for a cameo, this means even more work for old cast members. It also means that things will be harder than ever to keep straight and that physicist Daniel Faraday (Jeremy Davies), who is a time travel expert, is going to become at least a small voice of authority.

Meanwhile, back on the mainland, a few years closer to the present, the rescued Oceanic Six are on the move and on the run. Things are, mostly, not going well for them, in a practical or moral sense. Jack (Matthew Fox), still mumbling drunkenly into his beard, will join Ben in a drive to get them all back to the island, which, we are assured once more and on no clear authority, they have "left too soon" -- suggesting that the universe is out of joint and demanding a kind of supernatural chiropractic adjustment.

For no matter how many dials are twirled and buttons pushed, "Lost" is a show in which science is never more than magic in a lab coat. The island, we are told by a person in a lab coat -- who is tonight's first surprise, and a cute one -- contains "an almost limitless energy, and that energy, if we can harness it correctly, is going to allow us to manipulate time." And that is all the explanation you're going to get, pal. Abracadabra!

It's the physics of the expedient: While at one moment it can be claimed that there are cosmic "rules that can't be broken," another character will later be told, "The rules don't apply to you. You're special -- you're uniquely and miraculously special."

And that is just how they roll on "Lost."

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'Lost'

Where: ABC

When: 8 tonight

Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for coarse language and violence)

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