Matthew Fox, Lost, ...
Credit: Mario Perez

Because of its novel premise and referential knottiness, Lost is rarely reviewed as a normal TV show. You know, like the ones with plots that get resolved in an episode or three, and have a cast of regulars whom you can count on to reappear every week, give or take a few DUI convictions. But what if Lost didn’t require — to judge from the eloquent, endless exegeses provided by my colleague Doc Jeff Jensen — a solid grasp on everything from the works of Kurt Vonnegut to a thorough knowledge of The Flash comics? Well, that’s how I’m approaching this review, primarily to suggest and reassure that, even as Lost barrels along to its fourth-season finale, it’s still possible to watch this thing without a map, a Bible concordance, and a headache.

Over the years, I and others have razzed Matthew Fox for his one-note interpretation of Jack: slack-jawed brainiac who gazes upon Evangeline Lilly‘s creamy Kate or a nasty knife wound with equal bemusement. But, especially early on, Fox and his costars had to deliver lines with minimal inflection and facial expression, because seven scripts down the line, any of them might have turned out to be a bitter obsessive (see Harold Perrineau‘s Michael) or a violent survivalist (Terry O’Quinn‘s Locke). If they’d been playing their characters jolly or ditzy, it wouldn’t have added up, motivationally. (Jolly/ditzy works only for Jorge Garcia‘s Hurley.) That’s one way the producers’ announced, we-know-the-ending conclusion of Lost in 2010 has improved the show — it allows the writers not only to shape the story toward a conclusion but to give the characters moods and motivations that boost the show’s energy.

Here’s how much of a Lost non-cultist I am: I thought the fan-despised characters of Nikki and Paulo made sense. I spent parts of Lost‘s first season saying, “Why don’t any of those other tattered survivors in the background ever interact with the stars?” Similarly now, I hope some new characters push aside, however briefly, ones I don’t much care about (sorry, soap-opera-y Sun and Jin). I was cheered to hear that Jeff Fahey, who plays the grizzled pilot, Frank, will have a beefed-up role — I’ve enjoyed the ice-blue-eyed actor since his beguiling 1995 non-hit series The Marshal on ABC.

Lost is currently better than most fantasy/sci-fi because it’s as interested in character as it is in its alternate-world construct or its ideas about the time-space continuum. The series moves with fluid intensity between the Island, its urban flashbacks and -forwards, and its freighted freighter scenes. Like other TV loaded with culture references (from The Twilight Zone to Gilmore Girls), it’s not profound, but rather a game that expands your intelligence even if you don’t ”get” all the clues. It’s the pleasure of puzzlement. A-

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