'Lost' Cause

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This is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore watching television for KCRW, and feeling lost, again.

Did you see the season premiere of Lost last week? Great episode! It's a great series, and I'm glad to have it back. So why do I feel burdened by its return?

A lot's been said about how TV drama has become increasingly sophisticated, smart and complex -- a trend you can trace back to the landmark cop show Hill Street Blues in the early 1980s, which introduced an ambitious new language for TV storytelling. It also had an open-ended narrative, then largely the province of soap operas.

This fall, serial dramas are the rage... the kind of show you can't just drop in on when the mood strikes. Which means TV-watching is a commitment like never before.

But Lost takes commitment to a whole other level.

Now, I consider myself a Lost devotee. I loved the show its first season, and last year I didn't miss a single episode. And yet, as a viewer, I often feel -- well, at a loss.

On the surface, Lost couldn't be more basic. The action is mostly confined to a deserted tropical island, where several dozen passengers of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 crash-landed a while back. Simple, huh? But the show's narrative sweep, mythology and population are expanding faster than the national debt. Even to watch the show with regularity is to fall further and further behind. I think I could get a better handle on bosonic string theory.

The show can thrill us with its craft and surprises. But another part of the Lost cause, I'm convinced, is to humble us. OK. The series is supposed to be mysterious. I'm meant to stay confused. But I'm never even sure just how confused I'm supposed to be.

And, I'll admit it, I'm dismayed by how little I glean from all the clues the show drops, clues I'm mostly too obtuse to catch, much less make sense of. I marvel on encountering a newly published guide, Finding Lost, that deconstructs the series' first two seasons. It's nearly 400 pages, with small print. And while there are not a lot of answers here, scads of possibilities are put forth for us to ponder.

The truth is, every element of the show is subject to speculation, debate and a 180-turn at any moment. On Lost, a cigar is never just a cigar -- and even if it were, it would probably come in a Dharma Initiative box. Another clue. More questions.

Lost isn't a TV show. It's a navel that induces endless gazing.

Which means I feel a little guilty for only spending an hour each week on it. Like I'm a slacker for not throwing myself into repeat viewings, supplementary study and regular attendance in Internet chat rooms.

Should I just quit my job and devote myself full time to probing all the show's ever-shifting nooks and crannies?

Wait a minute! It is my job to have a knowledge of TV, including this show. Shouldn't I, as a full-time TV critic, understand Lost no less than I do The Sopranos or 24?

Well, there's one thing I do understand from last week's season opener: Jack, Kate and Sawyer are being held prisoners after being abducted by the Others, that mysterious band of refugees already settled on the island when the jetliner went down. And believe me, I identify with Jack, Kate and Sawyer! Now that Lost is back, I'm a captive, too. One almost as befuddled as they are.

Watching television for KCRW, and anxious for Wednesday when the next Lost episode will air, I'm Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore.