what it is: Lost
what category: television
vantage point: the story
I guess I'll always be surprised by the fairweather fans who distort the perception of success for anything popular. "Success" isn't defined by popularity so much as achieving the original goal.
The original goal of Lost, for instance, was to tell the story of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 and the mysterious island they landed on. As with any TV show, that's exactly what the show was about. The fairweather fans started believing around the second season, and then definitely by the third, that the show had lost its mojo, and then the show's creators started to agree, and the network allowed them to produce shorter seasons, which was less to handle, easier to swallow, and therefore the series regained its favorable impression, until the final episode, "which was a huge letdown."
As you can see, I never shared the opinion that Lost was anything but what it always intended to be, and that it was a game of perceptions that suggested otherwise.
Simply put, the story was always king, even if it wasn't easy to see what that story was at the beginning or ending. In the first season, it became incredibly easy to misinterpret what exactly the story was, because of the wild success of the creators to establish an incredible cast of characters, each of whom had a compelling backstory, so that the greater picture became obscured in expectations that distorted what was actually going on, and at a certain level, sensationalism was built into the series, or at least was a main hook, trying to figure out what exactly was going on. The creators knowingly strung along certain fans who liked the concept of a mythology that seemed like it was actually bigger than the show, especially in the first two seasons.
Yet all of that work was merely a campaign to deepen the experience and to capitalize on a success that was greater than anyone could have anticipated. I mean, the last time a group of people got deserted on an island, it was a bad sitcom filled with stock characters and ridiculous gimmicks.
Lost was always the inversion of that. The first season was all about subverting expectations. The moment you thought you knew what was going on, something happens to reveal that it was actually something else all along. I think that idea was, well, lost on some fans, especially the ones who were just fans because the series was cool to watch. The second season was all about this, especially how it actually introduced an entirely separate group of survivors without actually stealing time away from the ones we already knew, and of course the introduction of one of the most important characters in the series, Benjamin Linus. (How long did it take you to stop thinking of him as Henry Gale?)
The third season seemed to frustrate a lot of fans, and I think it's because the story was slowly changing from the survivors being seen as in control of their own destinies to the island taking over, especially once we learned the truth about the Others, that they weren't the boogeymen we'd thought them to be but rather just another group of ordinary people, trying to figure out for themselves what was going on with the island.
The funny thing is, Lost continually went out of its way to explain that it was always a series about characters who couldn't figure out their own lives, couldn't solve their own problems, and that they needed extraordinary help. John Locke was the first character to realize and accept that the island was going to be the solution, and yes, he was also the first one to realize that it wouldn't provide easy answers, that he would still have to work at it, and his dramatic arc in the first three seasons, and especially his eventual fate, forced everyone to really begin thinking about how they had to depend on each other to figure it out.
By the time we meet Jacob and the Man in Black, we realize the scope of the story, that the pattern has been going on for far longer than we could have originally realized. It might seem to trivialize everything we'd been following from the start, but it actually gives that much more weight, because these are the people who finally figure it out, and they needed each other's help to do it. If Jack hadn't had such a complicated relationship with Lock, for instance, he would never have reached the point where he both accepted the responsibility of the island and voluntarily gave it up. If Hurley had never come to the island, he would never have found the courage to both trust and accept himself, and therefore become the unlikely new guardian.
And the finale really said, it's not really about the island at all, but about these characters using the island, using the extraordinary opportunity it presented, the clarity it provided them, to finally find peace for themselves, because before it, none of them had any chance of finding it. The island was always a metaphor, a way of guiding each character along a path to trusting others and in that way trusting themselves, repairing their individual damage, finding balance and peace.
That was the story of Lost. Some people came away from the experience wanting specific answers to every last detail presented along the way. That wasn't really the point. The point was the story, about redemption. Everything else supported that, and Lost was an experience where most of it was absolutely brilliant, far beyond the scope of anything else ever presented on television. Perhaps the fans who came to the experience just expecting something cool never allowed themselves to be prepared for what it was really all about.
And maybe, in time, they will be. That was the point.