Sunday, March 18

The show must go on

It's alright if it takes the scenic route. But Lost doesn't even know what town it's in, says David Davies

I was a massive fan of The X-Files. I had a schoolboy crush on Gillian Anderson and tuned in every week to see if David Duchovny would trip over his bottom lip. It was a thrilling show; grown-up science fiction minus the tongue-in-cheek, treating subject matter such as alien abduction and liver-eating stretchy men with the seriousness they deserved. Of particular interest to a schoolboy with nothing to do in the winter months except attempt to surf the net on a 56k modem was what is now referred to as the "mythology" of the series. This was a narrative thread that encompassed the entire run of the show. The principal idea evolved around a government conspiracy to cover up the existence of extraterrestrials. Sounds juicy - and for a few glorious seasons it was magical television, tidbits of information revealed by key characters uncovering yet more of this all-encompassing plot to bring about the end of civilisation as we know it.

To paraphrase Edmund Blackadder, there was, unfortunately, one fatal flaw in their plan. It was bollocks. By the end of the ninth and final season, the show's creator Chris Carter was ringing fans up to figure out just what the hell was going on. Turns out the fans had about as much idea as a straight man in Habitat. The series ended on a farcical kangaroo court two-parter, where David Duchovny spent a steady ninety minutes outlining exactly what it was that didn't make sense. Left behind in the rubble was the hope of keeping the reputation of the series intact, and one damaged young man who vowed never again to indulge the ramblings of madmen.

So it was with a heavy heart that I avoided Lost. Like the plague. During the first couple of seasons, LCD exposure of more than ten minutes at a time was unacceptable. One time I got through half an hour, feeling myself sucked in by the strangely magnetic presence of the Jack Osbourne lookalike and the bald man who, quite clearly, had lost it a long time ago and wasn't getting it back any time soon. There also appeared to be a very large black man with a big staff who definitely, at some point, was about to kick serious ass. I felt like Homer watching the little white-suited karate man: 'But, Marge, that little guy hasn't done anything yet. Look at him. He's going to do something and you know it's going to be good.' By casting my mind back to those horrible final seasons of The X-Files, I was able to tear myself away. Now, with the show enduring Battleships-style potshots from critics and fans alike, it seems like the wise choice. Even my brother, an avid Lost fan, has let the current series float away on the airwaves. One of the biggest shows on TV is succumbing to The Show Must Go On syndrome.

The incubation period of the syndrome is long, perhaps terminally so. Programmes can go through three, sometimes even four seasons before they begin to display initial symptoms. The first is viewer dissatisfaction. In the creation of a mythology, a fine balance must be struck between questions and answers. Too many answers, and it begins to lose its mystique. Too few, and the viewer begins to lose interest and feel cheated. This is what's happening to Lost. Although J J Abrams and co. claim to have some kind of eight-season plan in hand whereby everything will be revealed, there comes a point when fanboys register how unwieldy the myriad story threads have become. I can already predict a similar outcome for new show on the block Heroes. Creating a mythology, especially in the geeky science fiction genre, is an excellent way to forge viewer loyalty, but only if you give the viewer what they want.

It's beginning to sound like too fine a line. Yet some shows have succeeded. Babylon 5, for instance, was widely considered to be an incredibly well executed story arc. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine also settled into a beautifully conceived mythology in its final few seasons. The difference is, these were niche shows. Originally aiming for broad appeal, they eventually whittled their audience down to the die hard few. They worked because they wrote for a fanbase. With a show like Lost, the phenomenon has outweighed the original premise. It has entered popular culture in a way that the initial remit never really catered for. Mythologies simply don't work across a wide demographic. To fulfil their promise, they must filter down their audience into those who understand, and are willing, to follow the show to its conclusion.

More than this, there has to be a conclusion, and the audience must feel aware that this is so. Where Lost has gone wrong is in its insistence on creating this massive, incomprehensible world of flashbacks and randomness. There is never that sense of resolution of parts, which are in turn vital components of the still unknown whole. If you want your viewers to invest in your programme, you have to pay out the occasional dividend.

There will never be a ratings smash based on a thought through, put together mythology. By establishing a long running, insular world of references and unsolved puzzles, creators of great television would acknowledge that they need to go after an audience who will be receptive to the mythology they have created. If you go the Lost route, you will end up floundering and your show will crash and burn like a broken airplane. There's still time for Abrams to turn it around. All he needs to do is identify the viewers who are still asking the questions, and tailor his answers to them and them only. Maybe then he won't have to ring the fans to find out what's going on.

Thursday, March 1

Slightly More Than Two Pints of Lager..

Helen Parton raises a glass to BBC2’s midweek schedule.

Watching Never Mind the Buzzcocks(10pm, BBC2) with one’s beer goggles on is probably like watching Gardeners World while donning wellies, or I dunno, wearing a policeman’s uniform when watching The Bill (y’see how you can really ruin a good opening line by running out of analogies to back it up).

In contrast to this blog’s previous review, I love this show. And I love it even more when I am as pissed as some of the their recent contestants have been – Amy Winehouse slurring all over the place and Donny Tourette going awol have been some of the best TV moments of the year, racialist (sic) outbursts on Celebrity Big Brother notwithstanding.

Last night, Simon Amstell presided over guests including Nick (the slightly mardy, duckfaced one, not the ruddy cheeked one) from Kaiser Chiefs, Dom Joly and Sinitta, the latter of whom seems to achieved such a marvellous anti-ageing job that Celebrity Beauty Editor Nadine Baggott and Andie ‘is it raining, I hadn’t noticed’ MacDowell must be seething. And, partial as I am to duck-faced drummers, it was Jonas Armstrong a.k.a. Robin Hood a.k.a. Joe Cole who brought some serious eye candy to the proceedings – so much so, looking done at my wobbly scrawl in red biro I appear to have written ‘Tottytastic’ . Clearly, I have missed my calling on more! magazine. Armstrong bore the brunt of most of the gags: ‘It’s Robin of Hollyoaks’ ‘C’mon guys, we’ve all had some mead’ and did it with the good grace that Preston Ordinary Boy (never has a band name surname seemed more apt) would do well to learn from.

My favourite part of the show, the identity parade, did not disappoint and I found myself thinking as Rik Waller stepped forward that he did have lovely flowing locks and quite a nice face after all – Christ how many had I had? Too many to prevent myself from falling off the sofa at one point, that’s for sure.

I’ve missed quite a few episodes of Party Animals (9pm, BBC2), now, which is a real shame – as far as I can tell just about everyone is shagging each other now and I can’t keep my eyes off of both ferrety faced Danny Foster and his brother Scott. However, more interestingly, this is what I found out about the woman who plays the slutty journalist, Clemency Burton Hill (what kind of a name is that for chrissakes!): ‘Clemency got a First in English at Cambridge. She's been a model and a journalist and has appeared in a number of shows including Hustle and Midsomer Murders’

A cure for cancer and achieving world peace is surely on the cards for her next career move presumably? Still, bet she couldn’t drink Winehouse or me under the table.