The Event already has a few episodes under its belt, and while it's not too bad, I don't think it will last. The problem lies not with the show itself, but with the shows that have come before it. The Event is a show that is all about finding the answers to mysteries, but the declining ratings show that sci-fi fans aren't willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. I think we can place the blame squarely on Lost. Lost has ruined serialized science-fiction television in the US, possibly for good.

It began in 1993 with Babylon 5, an underrated series that was one of the first major attempts at doing multi-season story arcs in American science-fiction television. The five-year storyline for the series was carefully planned by the show's creator, J. Michael Straczynski. In fact, though he kept the ending a secret, Straczynski had it stored in a safety deposit box, so that if he died, the show could be finished without him.

At the same time, another show seemed to be moving in the same direction: The X-Files. From the very first episode, the show planted seeds about a mysterious conspiracy involving extraterrestrials and rogue government agencies. Over the years, the show seemed to be building towards a final revelation about the mystery. However, viewers became concerned by the seemingly bizarre direction that story arc seemed to be taking with black oil-based aliens, faceless humans, and multiple enemy factions. In the end, fans concluded (and the creator Chris Carter admitted) that the story arc was not planned in advance, but made up as they went along, causing it to collapse into a disappointing lack of resolution.

The disappointment left by X-Files was so acute that the creators of Lost had to defend themselves in 2005, insisting that they did have a master plan, and wouldn't fall into the same lack of direction. Unfortunately, all their claims led to a confusing five-year run with an ending that was (in my opinion) even more disappointing than X-Files. In the case of X-Files, they at least had a coherent explanation for things that happened. Lost seemed to be intentionally confusing the audience with things like polar bears, a four-toed statue, and a fake arm, all leading to a finale that raised more questions than answers.

The result is that shows like The Event have an uphill battle. At least with Lost, viewers were willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt. Lost's enduring legacy may be as a show that betrayed its fans, leaving viewers less trusting of shows that followed, which could lead to genuinely good shows with a true direction ending up getting canceled before their time. The only way to erase that legacy will be for a sci-fi TV show to come along with story arcs that raise mysteries, then answers them with a truly satisfying resolution. Hopefully, that show will come soon, but I think it's a few years away.

UPDATE 11/06/10: Apparently, some readers of this post assumed it was us opinion alone that watched The Event with an eye towards disappointment from Lost. Here are some quotes from early reviews of The Event that show it's not just us.

"Every year, audiences and pundits wait for a series that will become the next Lost. However, even Lost tested its fans to their limit, especially at the end, although it is still held up as the TV benchmark for mystery and character." - Associated Content

"But can you keep audiences intrigued using a formula already well honed by Lost, particularly when that show didn't exactly end with a gratifying slew of answers to the million and one mysteries thrown out like cookie crumbs over the course of several years, but rather devolved into a hazy heavenly conclusion filled with hugging and learning?" - Salon


ZachsMind said...

Lost raised the bar and then in the end failed to match its own mark. It ultimately needed a resolution that would appeal to both the "Man of Science" & the "Man of Faith" inside every viewer. That was simply too tall an order to fill. More importantly tho, it failed itself because many of the characters didn't behave consistent in the final season to how they had behaved in seasons before. That's the real reason why the ending feels hollow, although the journey to the end was so filled with excitement and promise.

The Event fails not on its future vision. Like V, Persons Unknown, and other recent attempts at serialized scifi television, it fails because it disrespects its audience. You can have a low energy domestic drama or a fantastical dreamscape surreality of swashbuckling adventure and your audience will stay on the ride with you provided the characters live and breathe for the audience. If the characters feel fake, people will start looking for an exit.

Lost didn't succeed just because it had outrageous mysteries that may or may not have ever been resolved. It had characters that we grew to know and love. These characters had rich lush back stories where both little tragedies and epic events molded or informed their personalities and behaviors. We understood ultimately why Locke needed to believe, why Kate couldn't stop running, why Hurley so needed to bring joy into the hearts of those around him.

In these other shows, the characters are little more than place markers for required actions necessary to further the plot of a story that hasn't yet been told. They don't live and breathe for their audience so people change the channel. They don't commit actions that seem realistic or even rational. You can have irrational characters but you need to let the audience in on why they're being so irrational. Otherwise you just got Snidely Whiplash twirling his mustache & we're long past that.

Lost didn't ruin anything. Copycats simply can't repeat the formula by packaging the trappings without any depth. Even Hurley knows an empty taco is nothing but a fancy corn chip.

Wayneablood said...

You seem to be a victim of your own theorizing. You are dismissing a current show based on your impression of LOST. How do you know that THE EVENT won't answer questions and end satisfactorily?

monkeymigraine said...

Your point is mine as well. It's true that "The Event" might very well succeed where "Lost" and "X-Files failed. The problem is that the disappointment I experienced with "Lost" has made me so frustrated that I'm not prepared to invest that kind of time and energy again. A show would really have to come out of a new direction to do that. When it was revealed in "The Event" that the mystery involves aliens, they lost me. I just can't imagine them pulling something new out of that bag after "X-Files" beat the alien theme into the ground. I hope the show lasts long enough and has enough imagination behind it to prove me wrong.

monkeymigraine said...

Well said, I like your conclusions

Rosamund said...

"FRINGE" is still doing strong. So perhaps serialized sci-fi might still have a chance. But I do believe that "LOST" did some damage to the genre. It was a good show that had the potential to be great, if it were not for some seriously shabby writing and questionable characterization that was unnecessarily stretched out for years. Worst, many of the show's storylines were never fully addressed or closed. The fact that "LOST" lasted six seasons seems like a damn miracle.

Auriette said...

I watched one episode of "Lost" and quickly realized I could never stand to watch the series regularly. Call me old-fashioned, but I like linear storytelling and well-planned plots. The difference between "Lost" and "Babylon 5" is that B5 was well-planned. JMS and the show's fans got screwed by Warner Bros. The studio told JMS that the show was being canceled at the end of season 5, so he rushed to complete the story in season 4. Then, "Surprise!" Warner Bros. renewed the series, and JMS had to do some scrambling. If Warner Bros. had committed to the five-year plan from the start (and perhaps if a certain actress who left the show had been locked in to a 5-year contract), the overall series would have been much better, I think. As it was, B5 did a lot of great work, and the stories (both arc and stand-alone) and character development was top-notch.

As for "The X-Files," I really liked the first season or two. When the alien cover-up / conspiracy stories took over, that's when they started losing me. A little goes a long way with something like that, and I enjoyed the variety of situations presented in those earlier episodes.

Nigel Mitchell said...



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