Fifteen years ago today, on September 22, 2004, Oceanic Flight 815 from Sydney to Los Angeles crashed on a mysterious island and changed television forever. The two-part episode “Pilot” is a masterpiece and still holds the record for the most viewed pilot in history (and the most expensive, shot on location in Hawaii and featuring an unbelievable single unbroken seven-minute shot of a plane crash). Audiences instantly fell in love with the mystery of the island and the plight of the group of castaways thrown together and forced to survive. Lost was the biggest “appointment viewing” show until Game of Thrones years later, and it seemed like every casual fan with a keyboard had theories about the Island and its inhabitants. Over six seasons, the show provided plenty of questions (and few answers, much to the chagrin of some longtime viewers.) But ultimately, Lost was a show about how our pasts don’t have to be our future, how having faith can get you through the toughest times of your life, how your family doesn’t have to be the one you were born with. In short, it was a treatise on the human condition disguised as a sci-fi mystery — and airing on a broadcast network, no less. Despite its divisive finale (which I loved, full disclosure), Lost has inspired conversations even after its end, with a new generation of obsessives discovering the show on streaming services.
Of course, a show this successful had to have imitators as other networks wanted a piece of Lost’s monster ratings. Even when the show was still on the air, ABC tried to prepare for a time post-Lost. The network greenlit Flash Forward, which lasted only one season and featured the time travel that became central in Lost’s later seasons. Other networks started building their own Lost knockoffs, like The Event on NBC, which premiered to dismal ratings in 2010. Netflix recently dropped The I Land, which aside from being a complete Lost rip-off is also unwatchable. The most successful shows attempting to recapture lightening in a bottle are Manifest, which is currently airing on NBC and is a straight drama, and Wrecked, a hilarious parody of Lost that aired on TBS. Even Once Upon a Time, created by two former Lost writers, featured the flashback device made famous by Lost (along with much of its cast.)
There have even been talks of a direct reboot of the original, with creator Carlton Cuse telling Entertainment Weekly in 2014 that “[The series finale] is the end of the story that we wanted to tell and we had no plans to go back and revisit it. [But] I think it’s likely that at some point, ABC will want to reboot Lost because it’s a valuable franchise, [and] I do not begrudge ABC the opportunity to do something more with the franchise.” ABC’s current programming chief Karey Burke even said in early 2019 that “I would like that very much – that is a reboot I would be interested in seeing.”
But is it a reboot that is necessary or wanted? Lost succeeded for a myriad of reasons, some of which simply can’t be recaptured even if the original creators came back. To paraphrase everyone’s favorite surgeon Jack Shepherd, we absolutely shouldn’t go back to the Island.
The characters of Lost are what kept viewers tuning in week after week, regardless of what mystery was presented or solved. Lost’s first season introduced us to characters we thought we knew: the self-centered party girl with a hot, dumb stepbrother, the wounded tough girl with a secret, the heroic doctor, the handsome grifter, the funny heavy guy, the addict, the pregnant girl, the reclusive Asian couple, and the “terrorist” among others, only to turn those assumptions on their head through flashbacks. These characters were complicated, with unclear motivations that changed over the seasons. But the one constant amongst them all? They were all lost, looking for something they couldn’t find in their lives off the island. But they found the missing pieces with each other, ultimately finding the peace that was elusive in their lives by trusting each other. The mystery and frequent detours into the realm of pure sci-fi provided the impetus for their growth. Events drove character growth, even if there were questions that were never answered. I firmly believe that those who were unsatisfied with the finale focused more on the mystery, while those who loved the characters loved the finale because of its focus on the full-circle spiritual journeys of the castaways. All recent discussions of a reboot feature the idea that a whole new cast would be needed. But those characters and their relationships were a big part of the show’s success. Could a new Lost capture that once in a lifetime chemistry again?
A new Lost would also, ironically, be a victim of Lost’s success. Lost changed the game in television when it first aired, but in the years since fantasy and sci-fi have gone mainstream. It’s no longer unusual to see a show featuring supernatural elements on a top-five network, with The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones getting huge ratings and critical praise (both premiered within one year of the Lost series finale.) But fans had been burned by Lost’s ending. It is now common for showrunners to be asked early on if they have a plan for the end of their show, a direct result of Lost’s sometimes uneven world building and unresolved mysteries. As Thrones approached its end, the most frequent comparison was to Lost’s final season. When that finale also proved divisive, the headlines screamed “Is Game of Thrones the new Lost?”
Where would a rebooted Lost fit in this landscape, when part of what made the original so fun was the lack of a plan (at least initially?) Would the new show be allowed to be as wacky as Lost had the freedom to be, devoting a whole episode to two side characters who it seemed only the creators were interested in? (“Exposé” is still one of my favorite episodes.) Or an episode devoted to how one character got his tattoos with no connection to the overall plot? (No, I’m not kidding.) Lost is now a hot property, no longer the upstart hit with complete creative freedom and a brilliant cast made famous by the show. With that status comes expectations, and expectations can sometimes stifle creativity. A new Lost would have the hopes of ABC and Disney riding on its success, and failure would not be an option.
Lost is a once and a lifetime hit, with some of the best episodes of television in recent memory. Everything had to work perfectly, from the stunning cinematography to the outstanding direction to the unforgettable score by Michael Giacchino. Would I love to see more about the original characters, maybe short one-offs like the brilliant 2010 epilogue “The New Man in Charge” or the companion webseries Lost: Missing Pieces? Absolutely, especially if fan favorites like Jorge Garcia or Michael Emerson could be persuaded to make an appearance. But the difference between brief returns to the world of Lost and an entirely new mystery is huge. Lost’s finale is called “The End,” and with good reason. The story is over and the castaways have moved on (in fact, canonically, they’re all dead except Hurley.) Lost was completely original the first time around — a retread would just damage its legacy.
Unlike the castaways, we have a choice about whether to revisit the Island or not. To paraphrase Jacob, it only ends once. Anything that happens after that is just unnecessary.