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December 23 2009

TWOP's Decade in Review: Our Favorite Scripted TV Shows. TWoP continue their 'Decade in Review' with a countdown of their favourite scripted shows. Buffy features at number 13.

Link comes back to whedonesque for me.
Title and link fixed
I could argue these shows in many a different order, but I'm extremely happy at the way everything was placed. Nice to see Gilmore Girls there as well.
firefly > all
I am glad the show got on here, although I still disagree with the usual party line about the show's best seasons being in the 1990's. (I have a hard time ranking seasons 2 through 6, but I think that 5 & 6 are my favourites.)

Am glad to see the UK Office so high.

But Lost, really?
Lost is awesome, I'll miss it loads when it finishes next year.
LOST? Really? Ugh...
All the usual suspects are falling into line on all these lists, and rightfully so, in most cases - although the order is different on different lists.

But lost as #1? It's hard to imagine that even the most devoted Lost fan actually believes it's a better show that The Wire, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under or The West Wing - and those are just the emerging "cultural consensus" favorites, not even taking into account my personal favorite (BSG).

Most people seem to either love or hate Lost. I personally have a love/hate relationship with it, but not even the love part of that equation would place it ahead of most other shows on this list, much less at #1.
Lost is a wicked good show, and I'm currently rewatching its third season. It's compelling, well acted and sometimes really funny. That being said, its not as intelligent as it likes to think it is and although these characters are fun to spend a while with - Lost is so much more plot driven than character driven.
Lost - for the past few seasons - has been incredible television. Really very good. One thing I've noticed among the divide is: people who tend to write Lost off, or who dislike it, have generally not watched past season 2, while quite a few of those seem to mention liking the show in its first season. Of course, this makes sense: the number of drop-outs is obviously higher among non-fans than among fans ;). Thing is, in Lost's case there's such a huge quality difference between season two plus the first half of season 3 and what came after, that people who are judging Lost on its track record up to that point are - to my mind - not judging the same show that I've been watching and enjoying these past 2.5 years.

Obviously, next season will be a make it or break it moment for Lost, but while I agree the #1 spot is a bit too much, given shows like Buffy, The Wire, The West Wing and The Shield, Lost certainly deserves recognition for being one of the best written, most intelligent programs out there. It never talks down to its audience, giving it an incredibly complex storyline that so far makes perfect sense. And, yes, given this rich storyline, Lost sometimes does pay more attention to its story than it pays to its the characters, but that doesn't mean it doesn't do characters well. Benjamin Linus, for instance, is one of my favorite screen villains ever, managing to be equal amounts scary and sympathetic, while Locke's character arc is right up there with Wesley's from Angel, for me. And given tear-inducing episodes like 'The Constant' which managed to be mind-bendingly good sci-fi and a heck of a love story, I'd say Lost does quite well for its characters.

In fact, I feel that Lost consistently out-performed Battlestar Galactica last season (which is quite a feat) and became the genre show to watch, as far as I'm concerned. Some of the episodes from season 4 and 5 rank among my all-time favorite hours of television, and I'll miss the show greatly once it's gone. So while I do - slightly - prefer shows like The West Wing, Buffy, The Wire or The Shield, Lost comes very close to the quality of those and I always feel it's being treated unfairly by people when it gets recognition for being, well, good :).
GVH: I definitely agree that there is a huge difference in quality between seasons two and the first half of three, and 3.5-5. But I think the difference is not between weak and terrific, but weak and good. There is a lot going on for the good in seasons four and five, and characters like Ben, Faraday, Desmond have had great material. But I don't actually buy many of the show's character arcs, and disagree with a huge number of choices the show has made, even in the past two years. For example:

- There is a constant lack of concern for any characters that aren't in the regular cast. Jack et al. board the flight that will go back to the Island in season five, but only Hurley actually does anything to stop a bunch of innocent people from being stranded in a place that has killed almost everyone who landed there last time.

- Jack & Kate: The writers continue to portray these two, especially Jack, as almost sociopathically incapable of seeing beyond their own ultra-neediness. I like flawed characters, don't get me wrong, but there's so little self-awareness in these guys. In season four, Jack left Kate because, um, he freaked out that she had to do a favour for Sawyer. This seemed vaguely reasonable, until we found out in the season finale that Sawyer jumped off the plane to save their lives, and Jack was still acting like Sawyer was a no-good jerk. In season five, Kate decides that her attachment to Aaron--whom she has raised for basically three years as her son--was all a crutch because she missed Sawyer. It's not that I object to her finding Claire, but there's an implication in these episodes that there Aaron was never anything but a Sawyer-substitute. In the season five finale, Jack decides he wants to erase the entire future because, um, he's mad that he and Kate broke up. And somehow after this, everyone goes along with it. They have to introduce a flashback of her parents divorcing to get the usually-sensible Juliet to decide, suddenly, that it's better to erase her entire future/past than to risk her and Sawyer breaking up. (What?)

- Reductive characterization: The show tends to reduce most characters to a single defining moment or decision which defines them. In season three, for example, it was revealed that Locke's problems were basically all his father's fault, by making daddy responsible for him being in a wheelchair, too. Sayid's thing with Nadia, and losing her, was used as justification for him working for Ben, but it ignores the fact that Sayid had more or less completely forgotten her during the Shannon period, and the show completely skips over the period where he and Nadia are happily together, avoiding having to write, convincingly, the love story that would inform his entire character arc.

- Plotting dead ends: what was the point of Sun's trying to kill Ben for a half-dozen episodes, when it just took a minute for him to clear up their problem by saying that Jin is alive? Or Sun grabbing power, generally. Or the whole Ben-going-after-Aaron plotline? Most of the flash-forward material off the island ended up adding up to very little, a 1.5 year excuse for getting the characters back on the island. (Possible exception: "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham," particularly resonant now that we know that Locke really died.)

I understand why people like the show, and I can understand some justifications for the above, particularly that Jack, Kate, Sayid, and most of the other characters are meant to be shallow, selfish, etc., which I think they are to an extent--though maybe not as much as they come across to me. But I want to say that my annoyance with the praise lavished on the show isn't just because of seasons two and three.

Merry Xmas and happy holidays!
Fair enough, WilliamTheB :). In all honesty: I think a lot of your points are very fair. I'll reply to some of your points:

1. Yes, there is a huge lack of concern for all the other people not in the 'inner circle'. In fact, I think the show knows this, which is why - for instance - they wink at the audience from time to time (like when Hurley shows concern for those other passengers), in effect saying "yes, we know, we suck at this". I don't like it very much, perse, but it's one of those things I've accepted as part of the show's set-up. To me it's on-par with the less than consistent vampire mythology on Buffy and Angel.

2. Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Juliet. I think you have a point to a certain degree, but I feel it's a little less dramatic than you've stated. First of all, I think that Kate has always been written as very, very selfish. Pretty much from the get-go and in all her early flashbacks as well. She's not evil, and she certainly does have a good and even heroic side, but on the whole, in the way she treats those close to her: she's just not that great a person.

As for Jack/Sawyer: I get that. It's hard to acknowledge the good in a man you're in direct competition with for a girl, especially if you didn't really like each other to begin with. I've been there, as have many others probably, and I'm afraid I wasn't always the biggest man in those situations either.

As for the importance of these romantic engagements with regard to the larger storyline, I'll have to agree with you. Although there were always other motives, the show certainly has a tendency to imply that people like Jack and Juliet make life-changing decisions - not just for themselves, but for others - based on their love lives. And while there's some mitigating circumstances in these cases, it's at the very least a little grating in the way it's been played.

3. Reductive characterization. This used to be one of the biggest problems the show had. I think a lot of that got skimmed over by many viewers (and, possibly: the writers) because all the flashbacks and different timelines get confusing enough that the inconsistencies become muddled. Flashbacks get shown very quickly before 'life changing' moments in the 'now'. Because they're narratively close together, the audience bloats the importance of the character's history on the current storyline and accepts what they're shown. It's very effective, but just not all that believable if you stop to think about it.

My personal way of 'fanwanking' a lot of those moments was simple in the beginning: I always thought of the flashbacks as memories the characters were having at that moment in the storyline, this bigging up the relative importance of those moments for them as well. Unfortunately, it got harder and harder to do later on, as scenes started contradicting (or at the very least implied contradiction of) that assumption.

I do, however, feel that this started happening less and less as the show progressed. This probably wasn't a feat of the writing team though, as a big part of the reason why is probably that most of the 'history' of our main characters has by this point already been mapped out; there's no sudden inclusions/revisions going on anymore and I can't think of any sloppy writing like the Sayid/Sharon thing you pointed out in the later seasons (although I might be overlooking things now). In fact, some things have been outright clever (I'm assuming that - given the storyline of season 5 - they're currently keeping much clearer focus on what happens when).

4. Plotting dead ends. Yes. Together with your previous point, this remains the main problem with Lost's immensely complex storyline. While the overall story makes sense, there's stuff which - in hindsight - well, doesn't. And I expect this to get worse next season. I don't think we'll get closure on every major question dropped in the first five seasons. But I accept this as a given, upfront. Just as long as the main story makes logical sense and is consistent (which it wasn't for much of season 2, for instance, where it was flapping wildly left-and-right without much sense of direction).

All in all, I'd say those were some fair criticisms of Lost. Having said that, though, there's inconsistencies in pretty much every television series. Whedon flies loose with his mythology, as long as he gets to hit the dramatic high points. Angel also had its share of plot dead ends (especially at the beginning of season two and during season 4's storyline); as did Buffy (especially in seasons 4 and 7). Battlestar Galactica had a lot of unsolved questions, dead ends and whatnot. The West Wing had some glaring character inconsistencies, post season 4. The Shield, for instance, had one of its detectives sliding to the wrong side of the line, strangling kittens in the dark, only for it to lead to... nothing much, actually.

My point is: this stuff happens in shows. Especially in one as complex as Lost. And while I think it's a worse offender than the shows I've mentioned in the previous paragraph, it is consistently hitting emotional highs, delivering great reveals, creating memorable characters, amazing character moments like [spoilers] , etcetera. I feel that Lost gets a lot more flack for these problems than is fair and I think it's - in a lot of cases - because of the low point in season 2 and part-of-3. Which is fair enough: I was ready to quit watching right then and there, when it started picking up again.

But I'll certainly allow that there's more than enough fair criticism to lob at the show even after those seasons. Lost is in no way perfect; far from, even. I'm just not sure it's bad enough for the blatant dislike and marginalization I see happening a lot when people mention the show is good or when it gets included in lits like this (which, to be clear, you're not a part of WilliamTheB, and again: I don't think it should've taken the top spot :)).

Right now, I'd say Lost is appointment television. It excites me like few other current shows do. I can't wait for it to continue, and I'll be very sad to see it go. I think it's a television phenomenon. It's just like The X-Files back in the day: despite the mess Chris Carter made of the arc as the show went on, Mulder and Scully are still icons today. I think I'll always remember Lost fondly (unless the sixth season messes everything up beyond recognition; which, possibility ;)), and I think it might just end up an iconic show, warts and all, and deserves credit for that :).

And yes: happy holidays :).

(Jeez, this one got quite long again, it seems ;)).

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