The ”Lost” cast made our 2005 Entertainers of the Year list
On July 7, 2005, Lost executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse arrived at ABC to present their second-season vision for the network’s rookie sensation. They should have been brimming with confidence: In a few short months, Lost had become the biggest cult breakout since The X-Files. Instead, the producers were twitching with anxiety. For the first time, they would be sharing with ABC the answer to Lost‘s most tantalizing riddle — the contents of a glowing air lock, inexplicably buried on an island teeming with inexplicable things. Since May’s cliff-hanger finale, which ended with plane-crash survivors Jack (Matthew Fox) and Locke (Terry O’Quinn) peering into this Pandora’s box, Lost‘s brain trust had been constructing a backstory for the Hatch that was so complex and dense, it would require a three-minute orientation film to explain it to viewers. There was no plan B. If ABC didn’t like it, says Lindelof, ”we would have been completely [screwed].” The meeting, according to producers, went something like this:
”So: There’s a guy in the Hatch.”
”Every 108 minutes, he’s got to input this code into a computer.”
”He’s not quite sure.”
”What happens if he doesn’t input the code?”
”That’s a good question,” they said. ”We think it would be interesting to find out.”
Fortunately, ABC thought so too.
Since September, everybody’s instincts have been rewarded: Viewership has risen in season 2 — 17.8 million, up from last season’s 15.9 average — and Emmy voters crowned Lost TV’s best drama, unprecedented kudos for a serialized show with a geeky pedigree. Even Lindelof is perplexed by the show’s success: ”For many reasons, this thing should not work.” But it does — ingeniously and poignantly — and for that, EW has chosen the cast of Lost as our Entertainer of the Year.
Parsing Lost‘s brilliance is tricky, given how its virtues are intricately interlaced — meaty mysteries, woven into intense human drama, imbued with Big Ideas, packaged in a sprawling, time-toggling narrative. Lost co-creator J.J. Abrams — sidelined from the series for most of 2005 due to the directing demands of Mission: Impossible 3 — credits ABC for allowing the show’s writers to let their freak flag fly. ”The luck of Lost is that out of the gate, it did the kind of numbers that gave us the freedom to do whatever we wanted,” he says.
Lost has used that license to create not only a noodle-cooking mythology but a polyglot of unique characters — damaged souls fumbling for enlightenment and redemption in the damnedest of places — played by the best ensemble cast on television. Sawyer (Josh Holloway), the tragedy-bruised criminal. Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Sun (Yunjin Kim), the struggling, culture-shocked lovers. Michael (Harold Perrineau), the flawed but tireless father. Hurley (Jorge Garcia), the Numbers-cursed cosmic joke. ”We spend more time on character than anything else,” says Lindelof. ”The show has become this big scavenger hunt for clues — but it’s the characters that activate that story for viewers.”
Yet one of Lost‘s most admirable characteristics is a bold willingness to mess with its own dynamics. Obviously, there is the whole killing people thing — young and sexy people, no less. (Boone and Shannon: May you rest in semi-incestuous peace.) More potentially disruptive was the introduction this season of a separate group of survivors, ”the Tailies,” led by haunted cop Ana Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez) and charismatic enigma Mr. Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).
But the gamble has infused Lost with new possibilities. ”What we as a cast went through that first season mirrored what you saw on screen: people with no preexisting history, thrown together on an island, becoming a tight-knit bunch in the course of trying to make sense of this weird world,” says Fox. ”Then, to have these other characters come in — it’s added an interesting new energy both to the show and our experience. It’s palpable.”
Lost‘s impressive evolution has been fueled by other (friendly) tensions as well. Season 1 was largely shaped by the like-minded compatibility of co-creators Abrams and Lindelof: fantasy fans, comics geeks, and all-around pop savants. But since Abrams accepted his impossible mission, Lindelof has been piloting Lost with his friend and longtime colleague Cuse. Their collaboration is most clearly evident in season 2’s Jack-Locke reason-versus-faith theme, inspired by the spiritual worldviews of Lindelof (Jewish and empirical-minded) and Cuse (Catholic and willing to leap beyond logic). ”The collision of our perspectives plays out on the show,” says Cuse, who cites Narnia as one touchstone for the kind of fantastical otherworld Lost is trying to create. ”Both of us are searching for the answers to the bigger questions of how you lead a meaningful life, and we’ve chosen to use the show to explore those questions.”
The other defining dialogue taking place behind the scenes at Lost is the one between its writers and viewers. In response to ”blowback” from fans irked by May’s revelation-light season finale, Lindelof and Cuse aired that orientation film earlier than originally planned. Yes, the Lost boys can be a little defensive — but they also operate out of a keen awareness of how cult entertainment is processed post-Twin Peaks and X-Files. Moreover, they are plotting ways to take the show-audience rapport to the next level. Their vision for Lost — inspired by videogame culture — is to create a communal experience fed by multiple streams of information: first and foremost, the show, but also websites (check out thehansofoundation.org), cell-phone ”mobisodes,” and soon, novels and online games. ”With most shows, the ‘watercooler moments’ are what you see on screen. With Lost, what gets people talking is what they think they saw. A Dharma Initiative logo on a shark. Sayid on a TV in Kate’s flashback,” says Lindelof. ”The greatest thing about Lost is that people can own it. They can plug in, engage, interact, and imagine.”
Indeed, the cast realizes that the creators have plotted something unprecedented for a television show. ”Ultimately, Lost is a journey into the unknown,” says Akinnuoye-Agbaje, sounding quite a bit like his on-screen alter ego. ”It’s a journey of trust that must be honored, but you have to also take it on faith.” Lindelof agrees: ”We have a guy who has to push a button every 108 minutes, for no clear reason — and no one is questioning us on this! That never ceases to amaze us.” Adds Abrams, who plans on upping his involvement after M:I3: ”At the pit of exhaustion from directing Mission: Impossible, all I could think about — all I wanted to do — was write or direct another episode of Lost. Put it this way: If I hadn’t helped create it, I would be a fan — and I’d be absolutely furious with myself for not thinking of it first.”