Cassia and I watch hardly any TV (movies don’t count), which is pretty easy since, well, we don’t have a cable or satellite subscription.  Besides, we figured it was better to put our money toward an ultra-fast DSL subscription since most TV shows worth watching can be found on the Internet for free anyway.  (I’m talking about legitimate network-sponsored sites with streaming video, not this BitTorrent nonsense.)  But there’s one show we absolutely love . . . LOST.

And like a cool oasis in the desert of original television programming as a result of the writers’ strike, it’s coming back.  Tonight.  Hooray!

It’s been a long eight months since last May’s mind-blowing season finale.  And even though we’re getting only eight new episodes (which were all that could be done before the strike), we’re pretty stoked about what new surprises lie in store for our island castaways.

I’m a huge fan of long-form storytelling.  Most of the movies in my library are over two hours long, and I tend to go for the longer “director’s cuts” or “extended editions” of movies I love if they’re available.  TV productions can be excellent examples of this kind of plotting, but most shows are too episodic and removed from the nature of time for me to really get into them.  24 really broke the mold in the genre when it premiered a few years ago, but each season is only loosely connected to the other and the show has recycled so many plot points that it’s become laughably predictable.  (Season 5 was the show’s peak; Season 6, the most recent one, was its nadir.)

But LOST . . . oh man, LOST.  That show just gets everything right.  Okay, not everything.  But about 96% of everything.

One huge hurdle with long-form storytelling on TV is this inescapable sense that you’re getting strung along, that the writers and producers are introducing so many plot points that don’t matter or will never get resolved.  The X-Files fell into that trap – it promised far more than it could ultimately deliver.  Of course, when a show’s a big hit, there’s pressure from the networks to keep it going interminably.  And then you fall into the Law & Order and CSI trap, where each episode is essentially the same but with a few tweaked details (how does the suspect murder/kidnap people this time? will the prosecutors win their case or not?).  Thus you get these endless proliferations (CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, L&O: Criminal Intent, L&O: Special Victims Unit . . . am I missing anything?) of what is essentially a cookie cutter program format.

But what’s great about LOST is that the end was planned from the beginning.  And the show has a definite end date, with three 16-episode seasons planned so the whole thing will come to a close around May 2010.  As the show’s producers have said (and I think the metaphor is an apt one), it’s hard to put a puzzle together when you don’t know how many pieces there are.  Now that we know there are 48 pieces left, the writers can start definitively working on their endgame for the show.  All of which is so much better than ending the show on a whimper because the audience got tired of it and left, like the way about 99 percent of TV shows end these days.

LOST is a show that defies easy categorization and delights in throwing the viewer for a loop.  Just when you think you have it figured out (and there are dozens of theories as to what’s really happening on the island), a new wrinkle is introduced that makes you re-evaluate what you think you know.  Cassia thinks it’s maddening sometimes, but I get a real kick out of it.  (And no, the surprises aren’t just thrown in willy-nilly to mess with people’s minds.)

But the story of LOST is only part of what makes it so great.  Throw in a bunch of incredibly talented actors, a lot of amazing Hawaii scenery, movie-like production values, and you’ve got a show for the ages.

Now, the downside to all of this is it’s really hard for the uninitiated to just jump in midstream.  ABC runs a lot of clip shows to get people up to speed, but you’re really got to start at the beginning to get the full LOST experience.  But hey, you’ve got a few years to catch up before The End comes.  Right now is hosting all three past seasons of LOST in “streaming HD,” and Season Four episodes will appear there later as well.  The hardware requirements for enjoying “full HD” are a little steep, but if it does cause your computer to choke, there is a “Normal” screen size option available.

Honestly, I challenge anyone to watch the first episode of the series and not get hooked.  It’s consistently been one of the best shows on television.  And from someone who doesn’t watch TV, that’s saying something.   

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