Thursday, February 19, 2009

On Second Thought, Let's Cancel All the Shows


Wow, what a marvelous, sinus-clearing, ass-kicker of a "Lost" episode that was. "316" was so good, I think, that in retrospect it's a shame they didn't use it as the season premiere. It would have muddled the chronology somewhat, and left for later the major question of what happened to the island after it blinked out of existence at the end of the prior season, but I believe it would have been worth it. Unlike the actual fifth-season premiere, this episode set up a format and questions to be followed for the rest of the season. And for the first time since the redeeming third-season finale, it gave you that uncommon "Lost" adrenaline kick. The one you first got towards the end of the second half of the pilot, when Sayid and Shannon figured out that the French signal had been repeating for sixteen years. The one when Locke and Boone uncovered the hatch for the first time. When Michael plugged Ana Lucia. It's a nice natural high, isn't it?

It's so pleasing during the middle of such a crummy television season to have a show firing on all cylinders the way "Lost" is right now. In between being annoyed by slumps for "American Idol" and "Heroes" and even "House," being depressed by likely cancellations for "Life On Mars" and (just plain) "Life," and being both annoyed and depressed by "Dollhouse" being both terrible and likely to be canceled, having one network popular-entertainment piece that's really clicking is doubly appreciated. So many great moments from this one, it's hard to not just recap the whole thing: the utterly daffy Foucault's Pendulum room with the great Fionnula Flangan, Desmond's sudden outburst of spine, Ben battered and covered in blood, Locke's uncharacteristically levelheaded suicide note, Hurley buying out every empty seat on the plane to try and save innocent lives, all the parallels overt and subtle to the original Flight 815. And Frank Lapidus! Holy crap, that's some TV.

"Lost" is super good right now because 1) it's just completely embraced its crazy science fiction/comic book underpinnings, always evident in the background, but now driving the show with a gleeful lack of restraint about moving forward rapidly and shamelessness about being occasionally goofy. Note the aforementioned crazy pendulum map room, which was part "Prisoner," part H.G. Wells, and part Final Fantasy VII. (And note also Hurley in the airport reading Y the Last Man by current "Lost" writer Bryan K. Vaughan.) Then 2) perhaps not quite as important except to the extent that it feeds back into 1) there's an end date in sight. You don't have to hold on to any cards when you know which hand is the last one.

"Lost" is so good now that maybe we should make it a regular practice of successful shows announcing their termination date two, three seasons beforehand. If Daniel Faraday could somehow send us back in time to the late 90's, we could introduce this concept to some executives at Fox and save everybody involved with "The X-Files" a lot of embarrassment. "How I Met Your Mother" seems to battle cancellation on a midseason-to-midseason basis, but once it gets to syndication and starts reaching some of the many who have been sleeping on it, it would help the shape of that show if they said, "OK, Season 8 is the absolute limit, he gets married and computer-morphs into Bob Saget in the last episode no matter what."

"American Idol" shouldn't actually plan for its cancellation (which would be foolish as even in decline it's the most massive property in television short of the NFL) but it should threaten each year's contestants with the possibility. "I'm sorry," Simon could say behind the judges' table in the middle of a show, "I'm sorry, Tatiana, but you were so atrocious that we've lost all faith in the ability of our show to sell records. We're not only sending you home, but we're canceling the show. As of this moment. No one will win this season, and no one will ever get a chance to be American Idol again. Because of you. Think about that for the rest of your life." For a phenomenon like "Idol," it would only be appropriate for the show to die as it lived, toying with the emotions of fragile, self-deluded teenagers. Then everybody in the swayers' choir in front of the stage could whack Ryan Seacrest with sticks until candy came out.

If Joss Whedon wants to save face with "Dollhouse" it might be wise to announce right now that it was always intended to be a 15-episode miniseries. Fox would likely counter by giving it the axe after four (that's about as many as "Drive" got), but it would certainly goose DVD sales. I'd also like sometime in the next fall season for one producer to announce their show's planned obsolescence before the pilot airs. It'd be the most exciting thing to happen to a failed pilot since David Lynch made Mulholland Drive.

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