TV Club

Season 6 preview: Farewell to an American Institution


Jack, I’m so pleased to see you’re diving into this TV Club with your customary sunny optimism. Were I marooned on a tropical island, I would likewise pick you as a fellow castaway—if only for all the pharm parties we might throw together. (We can carve the pill bowl out of a coconut shell. I call dibs on any Klonopin that washes ashore.)

I’m totally down with your time-travel hate. As you note, it’s a sci-fi crutch that lets the writers get away with extremely floppy storytelling. It’s also been done to death.

I’d forgive Lost if it had found some new, ingenious way to bring time hopping to life for us. Say what you will about The Time Traveler’s Wife; that book managed to offer a fresh take on the genre—delving into the domestic routines and quotidian frustrations of a chrono-displacement victim. But Lost was shoveling out the same old stuff: spooky paradoxes, period wardrobes, and jokes about Marty McFly inventing Chuck Berry’s guitar sound … oh, my bad, I meant to say Hurley writing Empire Strikes Back.

Still, I’m very much looking forward to this sixth and final season, for two reasons.

1) We can take comfort, as always, in the words of Samuel Johnson: “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” My hope is that the Lost writing team will be similarly snapped into focus. Only 18 hours left to wrap up this whole megillah, dudes. Let’s make ‘em count.

2) More broadly, I see this Lost victory lap as a sort of farewell to an American institution. It’s not every day you see a scripted TV show achieve this kind of massive mainstream appeal.

Consider: More than 23 million people watched the opening episode of Lost’s second season. I love Mad Men, for instance, but its audience tops out at fewer than 3 million viewers. As a television phenomenon, it’s not in the same universe.

Even now, with ratings way down from their lofty peaks, Lost remains a formidable cultural force. People freaked out when it appeared that President Obama’s State of the Union address might interfere with the Lost premiere. Responding to questions (from ABC reporters, natch) at a White House briefing, press secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged that the fate of the country was less pressing than the fate of the Oceanic Six: “I don’t foresee a scenario,” said Gibbs, “in which millions of people that hope to finally get some conclusion in Lost are pre-empted by the president.”

It’s easy to hate on Lost—the sometimes silly twists and turns, the millimeter-deep characters, the ever-increasing suspicion that the writers entered this tale with no exit strategy in mind. But show a little respect for a program that serves up quality sci-fi, on free network TV, to the great enjoyment of a large slice of America. A show that’s unapologetically expensive to make, and looks it. A show that rewards the dedicated die-hard, not the casual drop-in.

This isn’t a singing contest, or a dating game, or a crime-scene procedural where one week is no different from the next. This is a serial narrative filmed on location with a huge ensemble cast. My vote is for more of that on TV—not less.

I’ll toss this over now to Chad, our resident Lost expert, who’ll be making sure we’ve calculated the denominators correctly in our Valenzetti Equations. What are your hopes and dreams for Season 6, Chad? Any predictions on how it all turns out?

Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.