Starring: Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly, Jorge Garcia, Terry O'Quinn, Josh Holloway I remember when Lost first aired. My dad faithfully watched at least the first season but when I asked him what was going on in the show, all I remember is him telling me there were polar bears on the island and weird stuff kept happening. Whatever.

So I never really got into the show.  Until a few weeks ago.

Ryan really wanted me to start watching Lost.  I balked for a while, but then sat down one Thursday evening after diinner and watched the pilot.  Then another episode.  Then another.  With the instant gratification of Netflix, I watched the entire first season in eight days.  Possibly with the exception of the first season of Castle, that’s the fastest I’ve ever watched a season of anything.

The premise is simple – after the Ocenania flight 815 crashes on its way from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles, a group of survivors wake up and try to figure out what’s going on.  The first one you meet is Jack (Matthew Fox), a doctor who serves as the de facto leader as he tries to sort out the dazed survivors as well or wounded.  Throughout the first season (and at least the first six episodes of the second season) he always walks around looking worried to various degrees – as if he is constantly second-guessing his leadership capability.

Among the roughly 45 survivors, only a handful are truly important to the progression of the plot.  Each one has some sort of personal burden or secret, artfully revealed through flashbacks woven into the episodes.  Your main characters (aside from Jack) are:

  • Kate (Evangeline Lilly) – Wherever there is a hike through the jungle, Kate wants to be a part of it.  Whenever Jack wants to go do something dangerous, Kate wants to tag along.  Whenever someone tells her what to do, Kate doesn’t listen.  Torn between Jack and Sawyer (i.e. whoever is most useful to her at the time), Kate has a very interesting past that she’d like to hide.
  • Locke (Terry O’Quinn) – The resident philosopher, Locke was traveling home from a Walkabout tour and has suitcases full of knives.  Creepy, yes.  Helpful for survival on an island, also yes.  As an able hunter and tracker, Locke helps keep the survivors surviving – until he gets sidetracked by an interesting find.  He also alienates some by insisting everything is destiny and that the island requires personal sacrifices from time to time to move them toward a resolution.
  • Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) – A musician in a formerly-popular band, Charlie has a big problem to deal with and a past that’s nothing to be proud of.  The island is like his chance to start over and do right.  Though his touchiness and temper cause some problems, overall he gets his opportunity to do right with Claire.
  • Claire (Emilie de Ravine) –  When then plane crashes, Claire is about eight months pregnant.  She can’t really do much on the island except write in her journal, sort through suitcases and wait to get rescued.  However, she also can’t do much to defend herself should others be interested in something she has…
  • Michael and Walt (Harold Perrineau and Malcolm David Kelley) – After basically being shut out of most of his son’s life, Michael now finds himself an instant father to nine-year-old Walt.  Michael’s uncertainty about his role and authority makes him a bit of an angry character in this season.  Walt, often accompanied by his dog Vincent, has his own share of struggles – though befriending Locke makes it a bit easier for him to cope.
  • Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Sun (Yunjin Kim) Kwon – This South Korean couple hangs on the fringes for part of the season as they do not speak English.  Which leads to some misunderstandings due to language barrier.  However, Jin does not endear himself to the other survivors by closely monitoring his wife’s behavior – ensuring men don’t talk to her, making sure she has all her cardigan buttons buttoned even though they are stranded on a tropical island.  Things are not peachy between them either, and they emerge as very distinct and interesting characters as the season progresses.
  • Hurley (Jorge Garcia) – Dude.  Hurley seems like a pretty regular guy.  He’s friendly, laid-back, frequently wandering about the beach with his headphones on.  He’s a perceptive guy and notices that all the survivors seem to be a little stressed out, so he builds a golf course with some material salvaged from the wreckage to lighten the mood a bit.  However, his mood is not always the lightest. He has a strange obsession with a set of numbers he believes are extremely unlucky.
  • Sayid (Naveen Andrews) – A former soldier in the Iraq Republican Guard – which does not win him instant trust among the largely American survivors – Sayid is also an electronics expert.  He makes an early effort to locate and leverage a radio signal to help them put out a distress call.  His other adventures include an inquisition of Sawyer and being taken prisoner by another island inhabitant.
  • Shannon (Maggie Grace) and Boone (Ian Somerhalder) – This brother-sister duo from a wealthy family do not seem to have a lot of survival-style skills in demand at the moment.  Shannon spends much of the first week on the island working on her tan and waiting to be rescued.  When this doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon, Boone teams up with Locke to make himself useful.  Shannon continues to struggle with perceptions she’s not useful – though when she’s not having asthma attacks or sulking, she does help translate a map and is really good at tying knots.
  • Sawyer (Josh Holloway) – The crown prince of one-liners, Sawyer is the guy everyone loves to hate.  After scavenging through the wreckage for choice items like medicine, single-serving liquor bottles and other niceties, he runs a little trading post in his tent.  Of course this irritates the bejeezus out of self-sacrificing Jack.   When Sawyer is not reading a mysterious letter, reading paperbacks that washed up on shore, selling accoutrements, or making up nicknames for Kate such as “Freckles,” “Sassafras,” and “Cupcake,” he is trying to forget his tragic past.

The characters really make the show – without excellent casting, without interesting back stories this would just be a boring drama about people arguing in the jungle and on the beach.  You have to care about the characters to want to keep watching.  The weird elements in the show (polar bears, the whispering jungle, a strange door with no handle buried in the middle of nowhere) would not be enough to keep me watching – what does is figuring out how the characters are going to act and react to keep surviving. Also, there are a ton of coincidences baked into the plot – the characters are more connected than they know, and it’s fun to notice these links (some less subtle than others) as they emerge.

I highly recommend the first season.  If you:

  • Like character-driven drama
  • Are ok with the absurd
  • Enjoy a story with the acknowledgement things can be more than they appear and that destiny and fate might exist
  • Like trying to figure out symbolism and meaning in pop culture

Put it in the queue!

I know this show is probably not for everyone.  So if you:

  • Have no patience with a show that ‘peels the onion’ by selectively revealing aspects of the characters’ lives one vignette at a time
  • Don’t have time to watch several episodes in a row
  • Don’t like to watch sweaty and/or bloody survivors running about in the jungle
  • Have a fear of flying that would be made worse by several depictions of the plane breaking apart midair

Don’t put it in the queue.

Written by Jennifer Venson