In my pursuit to devour all things television, I’ve recently come to a conclusion. I’m not sure how accurate of a conclusion it is or if it’ll even be a valid conclusion in a week or so, but for right now it’s what I got. I watch a lot of television, not the conclusion but I’m getting there, and part of that is because there is just an abundance of excellent content on our screens right now. It seems everywhere you turn there’s a new channel with a new must-see show. Not to mention the must-see shows that I haven’t seen yet. My pursuit of television content is never-ending, and I don’t mind in the slightest. The more stories I can consume the happier I am. I say bring it all on but I’d also appreciate if someone could fund this campaign so I can A.) actually watch everything I want to and B.) not go broke while doing it. If you want to throw in an elliptical for my living room that would be greatly appreciated too. Cause I will just sit there and eat everything. Is it sad how much joy the prospect of being a couch slug brings to my life? Ah, to dream Geeklings.
Through this journey, I have watched some truly incredible programming. Life changing shows from both a personal and storytelling standpoint. The amount of inspiration I have found from watching television is astounding and kind of bottomless. There’s a lot of jealousy. A lot of “man, I wish I had thought of that!” But it fuels me to create my own projects. To create something even better, and I’m trying. On the flipside of that, there’s a lot of things that I’ve watched that were, uh, not so good. I’ve lost track of the number of things I’ve slugged through or hate-watched to the finish line. It happens and eventually leads to the removal of a show from your to watch list, but you can’t figure that out until you suffer. And suffer I have.
Through my many hours of tv watching, honestly not sure if that’s a brag or not, I’ve learned that I’ve been chasing something. Or, more accurately, chasing a feeling. Anyone who has ever binged anything knows the feeling I’m talking about. That moment when a show absorbs you fully. When that line between reality and television is sort of blurred and all you can think about is the show, the characters, and what comes next. Basically, I’m talking about consumption. Anyone who is worth their salt in binge-watching knows that feeling. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does… man, is that a special connection. For me, I found that the first time I watched LOST and I’ve been kind of looking to repeat the experience since.
What can I say, you always remember your first.
If we’re being technical, the X-Files was my first real experience with binge-watching/obsession but LOST remains the most powerful. And that’s not saying I haven’t felt this way about other shows. Breaking Bad, Community, Game of Thrones, The Office, and many others I can’t even think of right now have all provided me with that high. That consumption but none as heavily as LOST. Why is that? What was it about LOST that was different than all the others?
A large part of it has to do with that moment in time. There was nothing on television like LOST. Nothing. Since then, a large number of programs have tried to emulate that formula but most have fallen short. Hell, I’ve looked for LOST in places where it didn’t even exist as can be seen in my The Crossing column. LOST was LOST and in some ways, that’s the best description.
The whole experience was immersive. There was soooooo much subtext to dig through and its discovery only enhanced the viewing experience. Suddenly we were all philosophy majors looking into the clues of character names or events and what it could mean for future stories. We were all detectives studying scenes meticulously to find even the smallest detail that could confirm our theory. We all believed in the Island and what it represented. We believed we “had to go back” and we all wanted to be a part of the Dharma Initiative. Some of us were men of science while others, not the Others, were men of faith. LOST was a way of life and it was rewarding. This idea that these “strangers” could find themselves on this island was such a beautiful concept. How somehow they were all connected and their meeting each other isn’t just pivotal to their lives but the fate of the world. That was part of the beauty of LOST, that everything seemed to have a purpose, and if you weren’t reading message boards, Doc Jensen’s reviews, or talking about it at the water cooler you were missing out.
For a long time, I’ve been waiting for a show to kind of strike that same chord. To remind me just how exciting it was to get wrapped up in LOST fever, and I think Breaking Bad and the first season of True Detective came the closest. With Bad everything, you could theorize, analyze color choices, dissect characters and still have the energy to watch and re-watch episodes. There was that compulsion to know what came next. To see how this would wrap up. With True Detective the Yellow King and Carcosa were all anybody cared about that summer. Time was a flat circle and everything within that first season seemed important and interconnected. Yet, neither really landed on the same levels of subtext that LOST did. That’s not a knock against either, Breaking Bad remains the greatest show I’ve ever watched, but the deep levels of LOST still remain untouched.
I want that again. I want a show to dissect and discuss like that. Where just about everything is important and not important at the same time. Where every scene is a clue to a new theory and can springboard my mind in a million directions. I’ve been waiting for that and I came to the understanding last night that I may have already found it, and I may have been subconsciously watching and re-watching because of the fact.
It’s very possible that The Good Place may just be the evolution of LOST I’ve been looking for. It seems so obvious when I say it aloud… or type it. On paper, the two shows are very similar. A group of strangers meet in a strange location (a mystical island or a town in the afterlife). Their shared experience not only leads them to find themselves but also each other. Both shows use flashbacks to build on their characters and narrative. There’s a character who is a literal philosophy expert. Things are never what they seem and even when you think you have one figured out… you don’t. And the survival of the world probably depends on these strangers banding together. That’s the broad strokes but when you dive deeper you see that The Good Place has taken the foundation of that LOST formula and perhaps improved on it.
There’s no denying that LOST has influenced The Good Place. Look at the evidence, the opening shot is of Eleanor opening her eyes in the Good Place much like Jack opening his on the Island. The entire introduction of Doug Forcett is a nod to Desmond’s introduction in the Hatch, with a Mama Cass song to boot. The majority of season two could be compared to the pushing of the button in the Hatch with Michael and his many trials. The idea of “having to go back” runs throughout the show. Janet’s murder button resides on a beach that looks like it was ripped right out of LOST. The influences are there to be seen. But what is it about The Good Place that makes it seems like its evolving LOST’s principals?
For starters, The Good Place is willing to tackle questions of mortality, humanity, and countless other big life questions head-on. This isn’t a knock at LOST but LOST prided itself in its use of metaphors and layers and layers of meaning. Sometimes you had to dig for what LOST was trying to say, and that was part of the fun, but The Good Place would rather address things head on. There are no Smoke Monsters here. There’s no arctic wheel. In The Good Place there are people and these people are our compass. The question of what makes a person good or bad is black and white. The Good Place understands that and tackles the issue head-on through open discussions of ethics and philosophy. Major topics that shape the characters within the universe through deep insight and humor. Because in The Good Place the characters grow and when the characters grow the world around them changes.
Much like life, The Good Place is constantly changing itself. I can’t think of a show that has re-invented itself more actually, and something like that could burn out a viewer. “Ugh, another new direction?!” Look what happened to LOST’s audience around season five, the dreaded time travel season. Viewers just couldn’t keep up with the change or the explanation. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve explained time travel in LOST to people and each time I end my rant not sure if I even believe what I’m saying. And while The Good Place has introduced time travel in a much less confusing manner, Jeremy Bearimy for the win, all the shifts to the board seem organic and like natural evolutions to the story. The ending of season one is such a “holy shit” moment that appears to come out of nowhere but instantly makes sense when you take a second to think about it. The Good Place has placed before it a roadmap that feels earned and not thrown together at a whim, a criticism that LOST frequently got (not one I necessarily agree with though).
LOST focused on gradually bringing its characters together ultimately to save the world. A lot of character work had to be done first in order to get the survivors of Oceanic Flight 805 on the same page. We lost great characters to the cause while others were duped by the Island and served no purpose at all. The Good Place takes its characters and instantly shows the viewer that they are better together. That what they’re doing is the most important part of their lives… or afterlives. There’s no build to that. It’s an understanding and it fuels the show. We know our characters are stronger together and it allows us to appreciate them on a whole, and respect their actions. We want to root for Elanor, Chidi, Tahani, Jason, Janet, and Michael because we know the world depends on it. We’re not questioning them or their motives like a Ben or Michael because the show has told us already that they share a common goal. Taking the “can they co-exist together” element out of the story allows us to appreciate the message that’s trying to be told.
You can watch individual seasons of LOST and the show can seem to be about something different each season cumulating in its big stakes finale. The Good Place has only been about one thing, and that’s what it means to be a good person. None of the narrative switches, or trolley problems, or Janet’s voids will ever change that. At the end of the day The Good Place has been up front with us and because of that, we’ve been handed a tremendous show. A tremendous show that probably can’t exist without LOST or the very high bar it set. It’s okay to take something sacred and to try and improve on it, I think that’s what frozen yogurt is supposed to be, and if the results turn out to be something like The Good Place then that’s quite the gift.
Through all my television watching I’ve been looking for another LOST and The Good Place has been right in front of me this whole time. Just waiting for me to put the pieces together as if I was watching an episode of LOST. Discovering that, has been one of my favorite television rewards. Seeing that LOST-like storytelling can still exist in this television landscape, and that storytelling can take everything I loved about the experience and make it better. I can’t explain how forking happy that makes me.