My relationship with the TV series Lost is not a complicated one. Unconditional adoration on my part. Hysterical, overwrought desire to please on its part. Not complicated then, but perhaps a bit co-dependent. Maybe we should be getting therapy.
I was captivated by the easy élan of the opening episodes of the first series way back in 2004 where mad detail was heaped on mad detail at an amazing speed. There was a cavalier attitude towards the sudden death of apparently major characters that I enjoyed. I foolishly cooled on it a bit in the second series when it was developing the characters at the expense of plot, but then perversely I found the difficult third and fourth seasons to be wonderful.
There’s just something heroic about a series that winds ever more tightly round itself, constantly going back to previous incidents and interpolating new elements into them.
There was also a noticeably jocund set of creative minds behind it who seemed to be working on the principle that asking questions is a lot more fun than answering them.
The writers took, and continue to take, great pleasure in giving characters seemingly significant names. Jack Shephard (heroic surgeon, constantly giving of himself and son of a man called Christian) becomes the literal leader of the flock of plane crash survivors on the island.
There are characters called Locke and Hume (also the name of two British empiricists of the seventeenth eighteenth centuries) whom the story depicts permanently struggling to assert their own identities and master their own destinies. In the early series there is a maverick French woman called Rousseau, the sole survivor of a previous wreck on the island, who scampers round the forest demonstrating uncorrupted morals in a state of nature in a way that her eighteenth century philosophical namesake might have recognised.
There are scientists called Hawking and Faraday (and was there a Minkowski too?). There is even a character who lived on the island as a child, spent time in the (for want of a better phrase) real world and then returned to the island as an adult. She’s called Charlotte Staples Lewis. Narnia fans will spot straightaway what is happening here.
The programme also had an early fixation with literature. The crash survivors would often be seen reading books salvaged from the remaining luggage and the books would generally reflect something that was happening in the story. Sawyer, for instance, is seen reading Watership Down as the group decides to move from their threatened environment to an apparently safer one. This is broadly what happens in the novel.
At one point Flann O’Brien’s flipping marvellous novel The Third Policeman became prominent and an awful lot of Lost fans bought it in the hope of plot clues therein. The sales increase on that book over those couple of weeks was hilarious.
One of the producers said that an attentive reader would certainly get some pointers from the book, but that even if they didn’t they would at least have read a very good book.
Glory be! A TV programme that actually urgently wants its viewers to read challenging literature. Do we have anything like that in the UK?
For all that I don’t want to claim that Lost occupies the cultural high ground, and neither do I think that the programme stands up to any properly rigorous analysis. This is mainly because it plays so fast and loose with what is acceptable in a narrative that critiquing it is like juggling soap in the rain. In Lost the linear progression of time cannot be taken as read, and the death of a character is not in anyway absolute as a result of this.
It’s a bit of playing around, I think, rather than any attempt at intellectual significance. But isn’t it good that a highly rated American TV series can play around at this level? Again I ask, is any British TV series doing anything like this?
We are now into the sixth and final season. The widely held view is that the series had stumbled badly a few years ago, that the US writers’ strike forced it into an unaccustomed leanness in Season 4 and sharply focused the writers’ minds on winding the whole thing up in Seasons 5 and 6. This may be the case. Certainly I have the belief that they could have carried on indefinitely. There was always scope for expanding the physical landscape further and plonking new characters into the dramatic interstices of previously expounded plots. Frankly I’d have been happy if they did.
But I also think that maybe this was always the way the show was going to develop and that the writers’ strike story is just that: a story. It doesn’t really matter.
After seasons of ever more complicated flashbacks in which the characters’ lives were shown to have been almost unfollowably tangled together without their knowledge, and a season of flash forwards, in which some of the characters’ future lives off the island were alluded to, we now have something that I don’t quite know what it is yet.
In the previous series some of the characters ended up back in time in 1977 with a nuke. (Yeah, I know. It makes sense in the story.) Their plan was to detonate the bomb to destroy the island in the past so that they could never have crashed on it in the future. Well that was the plan most of them had. One character wanted just to get off the island in 1977 and invest in Microsoft shares. Another was busy “writing” the sequel to Star Wars (which he could remember word for word) before the actual writers could do it.
Anyway those were just diverting side plots. The main one was the nuking of the island in the past to stop it being there in the present, and that’s what happened. Season 5 ended with a nuclear flash.
Now here we are in Season 6 and there seem to be two parallel stories developing. One in which the bomb didn’t destroy the island and everything unfolded as we’ve seen, but at the same time one in which the island has been destroyed and the crash of Season 1, Episode 1 never happens.
It could confuse a stupid person.
Looks to me like the writers are now getting stuck into a simplified version of the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Only instead of writing about an uncountably infinite number of possible outcomes, which would be a strain on any team of writers, they have decided to concentrate on two.
Unless they haven’t.
I actually don’t know what they’re doing, and that, in this soapy linear processed world, is a delightful thing to be able to say about a TV programme.
A quick word on infinities.
I used to think that infinity was infinity was infinity, but it’s not that straightforward it turns out. There are countable infinities and uncountable infinities.
To illustrate, if you start at zero and start counting up in whole numbers you can just keep plodding on. You’ll never get to the end, but you’ll always be able to just carry on counting. That’s a countable infinity.
If you start looking at the number of fractions between zero and one then it’s less simple. Between zero and one is one half, and between zero and one half is one quarter, and so on. Whichever two fractions you choose, however close together they are, there’s an infinite number of fractions between them, and so on and so on. The space between zero and one is infinitely divisible an infinite number of times. That’s an uncountable infinity. Wherever you start, however minutely you proceed to the next number you’ve missed an infinite number of other numbers.
Such is my recollection of it anyway. There are some almighty brain-heads who read this blog, and I’m a bit thick innit. Please put me right if I have gone wrong.
Infinity and zero. That’s always the bits where science gets interesting. It’s also what sorts out the mathematicians from the arithmeticians I would think.
Praise and credit to Lost then, for at least asking questions even if it doesn’t always get round to answering them exactly.
The same is not true of Bargain Hunt, my daily lunchtime treat on BBC1. I’m not sure if I like it for any reasons other than the Pavlovian one of it being lunchtime. Stop work. Have food. The Bargain Hunt theme music goes, I start salivating.
Anyway, Bargain Hunt is not interested in the Socratic method or in fact interrogative discourse at any level. And if there is a question in the universe to which Bargain Hunt is the answer then it can only be this:
“I like to see retired vicars, fungally infected students and morbidly obese women buying tat in a field from thieves. What programme, if any, caters to my very specific area of interest?”
So, Bargain Hunt then. Teams are given money (licence fee payers’ money I might add) to buy antiques against the clock. These are then auctioned. The team with the biggest profit or smallest loss wins.
I used to think, what with licence fee accountability and everything, that if the contestants lost money they should be made to personally reimburse the Beeb. They should be marched to the cash point if needs be. I calmed down on that idea though when it became consistently obvious that the sums of money involved are risibly small.
There aren’t many game shows in which you see the presenter scrupulously counting out seven pounds prize money to the winning team.
What really tickles me though is the choice of music the programme makes.
Back in 2000 I bought an album called Keep It Unreal by Mr. Scruff. I heard it playing in Our Price (yep it was that long ago) and liked it so much that I bought their only copy. They had to stop playing it to sell me it which was a bit sad, but them’s the breaks.
Anyway, for about five minutes I felt like I had a joyful little musical secret, and then tracks from it started turning up everywhere. I couldn’t see a trailer or advert on TV without it being backed by something off Keep It Unreal. I couldn’t believe it. It was more bloody ubiquitous than Play by Moby.*
This doesn’t often happen to me, but it’s spookily started happening all the time with Bargain Hunt. Every bit of backing music they play is something I already own.
Not that unusual, you might think, but they are playing some really weird stuff. Today it was the rocking ska version of Guns Of Navarone by The Skatalites. Brilliant track, but not on the surface of it pertinent to the process of buying antiques.
For me the pinnacle of unreality was reached a few days ago when the producer elected to accompany footage of some hapless Weeble fuckwits bobbling through a car boot sale in a windy car park to the sound of the excoriating 1990 hip hop anthem 911 Is A Joke by Public Enemy.
Trying really hard to understand the thought sequence at work here I do have to concede that 911 Is A Joke does contain the phrase “Going, going, gone” which might make it seem like it belongs in a programme involving an auction.
But it doesn’t really though does it?
I can’t imagine that when Chuck D, Flavor Flav and their chums were recording this magnificent, incendiary condemnation of social inequality in inner city America that their hopes were that it would one day play over a scene of Tim Wonnacott in turquoise pince-nez and a cerise cravat standing on a drizzly bit of tarmac outside Biddeford appraising an Edwardian coal scuttle with a chrysanthemum painted on it.
*(After reflecting on it I don’t think something can be more ubiquitous than something else. It’s either ubiquitous or it isn’t, surely. I just can’t think of a better way of putting it. Frowny face.)