Friday, 29 December 2006

Lost Season 2 (2005-2006)

Lost Season 2

After the worldwide phenomenon that was Lost Season 1, things seem to have cooled down considerably for Season 2. Viewing figures are down, both here and abroad, and endless critical reviews during the terrestrial transmission of this second series have almost consistently complained that the series is suffering from the same problems The X-Files suffered from when the creative well ran dry round about the fifth or sixth season.

I have to confess that I'm one of those who got irritated by the long, slow 'hatch' story development over the second half of series one, not helped by a series finale that answered nothing and left far too many cliff-hangers that weren't going to be answered for several months while the series took its annual hiatus.

Whilst Season 2's first three episodes went some way to addressing criticisms that the series was being eked out, explaining many of the mysteries that had cropped up in Season 1, by the time we got to episodes 4 and 5 the series seemed to be back to its slow crawl pacing which, coupled with non-stop adverts every five or ten minutes on Channel 4, meant I gave up on watching the show on any kind of regular basis.

So thank heavens for DVD. Without the annoying week-long delays and endless adverts, the second series stands up as an incredibly strong show. It's not easy straddling two quite different genres - science fiction mystery and soap-like 'real life' character drama - but I think Lost does it incredibly well, with individual episodes alternating between extending and explaining the science fiction mythology, whilst other episodes provide very moving character drama. The 'back story' mechanism is over-used, and many fans are complaining that in Season 2 we're just getting re-runs of back stories we were already told in Season 1, but I think such criticisms are, for the most part, unfair. The new back stories give more depth, introduce more twists, and, thank goodness, finally help explain mysteries that were started back at the start of the first season. By the end of this second season we understand the function of the mysterious hatch, why the Oceanic Airways flight crashed, what Katy did that had her hunted down by law enforcement officers, a lot more about the mysterious 'Others' who inhabit the other side of the island, and other details besides. The series moves a lot of strands forwards, despite the reports its detractors have written that would indicate otherwise.

Of course new mysteries have been introduced, but unlike say The X Files, the mythology isn't becoming so convoluted that it's clear the writers are making things up as they go along, with no real end-goal in sight. Everything about Lost is consistent and for the series to still be pulling so many rabbits out of the hat (there are some genuine shocks and surprises throughout Season 2) is no mean achievement. For the best example of this check out the last episode of the season where lots of questions are answered, the obligatory expected cliff-hangers are delivered, albeit with a sense of wrapping several things up nicely, and then suddenly the last two minutes completely change tack and deliver a complete mind-fuck that leaves the viewer stunned, wondering what the hell he just saw and whether it turns everything he'd assumed over the last two series completely on its head. It's brilliant writing and it's hard to recall a show that has had as many 'water cooler discussion' moments as this one has had. There is something wrong with a critical press that continually hypes up the juvenile tripe that is Doctor Who, while not trumpeting the quality inherent in a series like this which shows just how far away the quality bar is when it comes to British drama series.

Just as important as a clever, well-written script, and good cast, is the consistency of the series. There are no 'let's completely change the character or story arc' moments here, in spite of all the twists. Unlike most TV shows you can watch one episode after another in a long viewing marathon and everything is consistent, as if it were intended to be viewed that way rather than in a weekly episodic fashion. Shows like 24 have done very well on DVD, but single-sitting viewing of multiple episodes soon reveal the repetition, constant re-caps, and overall ridiculousness of the basic premise given the time periods involved. Lost suffers from no such flaws, which is a pretty amazing achievement.

Lost Season 2 screencap

Previously issued in two halves, to satisfy the 'must have it now' demand of fans, whilst not falling foul of the 'no DVDs until the episodes have been transmitted' rule, this boxed set contains all 24 episodes of the series, with three commentaries from those cast members who didn't do commentaries for Season One. In truth the commentaries are lacklustre affairs, with a clearly overworked cast happy just to watch episodes they haven't seen for a while rather than add any real value. An extra disk of supplementary material is also included and although artificially split into sections based on the Dharma mythology used in the series, what you're really getting here is a series of 5-10 minute featurettes on about half of the episodes. These don't reveal anything new about the show but make for interesting viewing. The writers are refreshingly honest about the whole writing process, and how story strands are often started with no real idea of where they will end, although why some episodes should be covered in such fashion, whilst others are neglected, is not clear.

The picture quality is, at times, reference standard (ie stunning), which is hardly surprising given that the series is shot in high definition, with a Blu-Ray release of the first season already announced for next year. The days of American shows being released in poor, murky brown NTSC transfers with little contrast (West Wing anyone?) are thankfully long gone.

All-in-all it's a pretty impressive package for a TV series. The danger here is that with all the extra's there's little incentive to actually watch the show on original broadcast transmission. Endless interruptions with long commercial breaks really don't help shows like this, but there must be a real danger with the dwindling audience share, that the series could get canned sooner rather than later, somewhat spoiling things for those of us enjoying the annual catch-up on DVD.

Lost is easily one of the best ongoing drama series being broadcast on television these days. The DVD package presents the series with the best possible picture quality, and a set of quality extra's. Highly recommended.

Lost Season 2 screencap

1 comment:

lost season one review said...

Lost has been one of the greatest series ever, and has been a big part of many peoples lives. Absolutely amazing what this show has done to 1 hour drama television. Thank you ABC :)