Friday, April 11, 2008

‘Lost': Secrets from the Set!

Doc Jensen

Due to the fact that there are some major spoilers in this four-page article, two complete pages must be pretty much removed. I’ll go page-by-page on what’s left. – Melissa

Page One:
Life on the Oahu set of Lost isn't always a day at the beach.
You'll start seeing it on April 24, when Lost returns with the first of five fresh episodes that will wrap up its buzzy, strike-abbreviated fourth season.

Page Two:
Camp Locke is actually Camp Erdman in real life, a YMCA facility on Oahu's North Shore. On this rain-splashed afternoon, a couple dozen day campers sit on the grass, waiting to watch Lost XXX. XXX, the man who plays con-artist bad boy Sawyer, Josh Holloway , gamely takes questions. One boy shares how his mother, a big Lost fan, talks about the show so incessantly that he has to cover his ears and beg her to stop. The kids laugh, and so does Holloway, but the camp counselor is embarrassed. ''Now, remember,'' she scolds. ''Respectful questions.''

The stars of Lost have heard worse, especially last year when they were put in the awkward position of answering harsh criticism about how Lost had lost its way. ''When you came out here last season, I remember I didn't talk to you,'' Andrews tells an EW writer, ''because if all you have to say is something negative, why talk at all?'' Asked where he thought season 3 went wrong, Andrews smiles. ''Well, I wasn't in it much, so that's flaw number one, without sounding ridiculously arrogant,'' laughs the actor, whose Sayid was truly underutilized. ''A lot of us didn't know which way the show was going, and I'm not sure the writers did, either. They seemed to be meandering in the dark. But it's good now. We're on track.''

So how did they find the light? By negotiating the death of Lost itself. Last May, the show's guiding hands, Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, reached a deal with ABC to end the series in 2010 after three 16-episode seasons; as a result, Lost's storytellers have been able to bring structure and focus to their saga. It began with last year's bravura finale, which brought the promise of rescue and introduced ''flash-forward'' storytelling into the mix. Fox — who was the only actor besides Evangeline Lily (Kate) privy to the episode's it's-not-a-flashback twist — recalls barely being able to keep the secret from the rest of the cast. ''I knew it would take Lost to the next level,'' he says.

Season 4 has gone even further with new twists, new characters, and a new forward-moving, future-revealing mythology. Front and center are the Oceanic 6, a privileged clutch of castaways — Jack, Kate, Sayid, Sun (Yunjin Kim), Hurley (Jorge Garcia), and baby Aaron — who have somehow, someway escaped the Island. ''I think this flash-forward business is a stroke of genius,'' says Emerson. ''I think everybody here feels that we are now a more mature show, that we are now a show for grown-ups, because XXX.''

Page Three:
At the very least, Lost has become a show no longer dogged by skepticism that its producers lack a master plan. ''The question of 'Do you guys know where you're going?' kind of evaporated,'' says Cuse. ''People are no longer fearful that they're going to be led like lemmings to a cliff edge and plunge off.'' Nobody is more thrilled than the cast; across the board, their enthusiasm — and, in some cases, relief — is palpable. ''Now, the story carries everything and we're just players in it, which I like,'' says Holloway. ''The writers can be concise. I like that, too.'' Adds Fox: ''Our writers have always said we needed an end in order to start ripping. Now, we're ripping.''

This isn't to say that season 4 has been perfect. After hitting a high-water mark with ''The Constant,'' a deftly plotted, unabashedly romantic time-travel yarn that ended with Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) finally making contact with soul mate Penelope Widmore (Sonya Walger), Lost slowed the pace and muffed some plays. A trick ending — She's in the future! He's in the past! — to an otherwise powerful episode featuring Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Sun alienated some perplexed fans. And the hyped-up return of castaway traitor Michael (Harold Perrineau) defied continuity logic and generally failed to meet expectations. Still, these are minor concerns compared with past infractions such as a guest turn by Bai Ling and last year's awkward introductions of — we hesitate to even bring up their names — Nikki and Paulo.

Ironically, season 4's overall strength and sophistication may have renewed Lost's creative mojo, but it has also sealed the show's rep as an intimidating weekly TV commitment. Viewership has steadily declined throughout the season, from 17.8 million for the season 4 premiere to 13.4 for episode 8. When the show returns April 24, it will air after Grey’s Anatomy, at 10 p.m., and while it may get some draft from the hospital hit, it's a less-than-McDreamy hour for a series that demands maximum alertness. But ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson says that even though he'd ''love to see the show grow...the reality is that the numbers are pretty good.'' And he's as excited as anyone about the new direction. ''Lost has established itself as one of the great shows of all time. I'm proud that by agreeing to end the show, we have freed them up to do what they want to do.''

Page Four:
And what they'll be doing is kicking things off with a meaty sweep of story.
While fans wait to see what form Lost's future takes, the cast waits to see whether they'll be part of it: XXX. XXX Daniel Dae Kim addressed a reporter's question about Jin's uncertain flash-forward fate (he seemingly died in the March 13 episode) with a mock-frantic cry: ''I don't know!'' As it was at the start, Lost is once more the show where anything can happen. Drying out in the sun after scurrying away from a big wave that washed out the scene, Yunjin Kim sits in the tall grass of the beach and sums it up: ''It feels like season 1. And I love it.''

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