After Lost’s debut in 2004, it became a phenomenon. Lost broke new ground for network TV - the production, writing, acting, character development, plot complexity. Unique and special. The online communities added to the Lost experience - talking or about it or complaining online was as fun as watching the episodes.
Lost’s 1st season is its greatest. Lost’s first season is a masterpiece of character development. Using the past to add emotional layers, this empowered the building relationships and tensions on the present day island. The juxtaposition of past and present turned its characters vitally alive. The head-to-head character arguments in Lost, perhaps aided by this development - are also above any other show’s I’ve seen. The island provided plenty of exciting plots the first season, but it only supported the true meaning of the season - introducing us to these characters, their trials and tribulations past and present and their relationships on the island in this predicament.
From there the show progressed in a still great, but different direction. Seasons 2 to 6 of Lost is in my opinion, the greatest television plotting accomplishment in history. The writers took the show in as many crazy, exciting directions as they could - to levels unexplainable to non-viewers.
Yet as the plot put the show on its shoulders, perhaps it was taken off the shoulders of its characters. While the flashbacks and emotional pay-offs remained, increasingly characters like Jack, Kate and Sawyer felt as if story and plot delivery devices. Where the plot was to take the viewer next, felt more essential than the next step in a Jack’s conflicts. Why Ben and Locke stood out so much in later years of the show, is their complexity and conflicts always took center stage. Two of the greatest television characters in history. Season 6 limped to the finish line because of Locke’s death and Ben’s under-use, leaving the show to characters who’d grown more shallow over the years - and they couldn’t carry it to as high of heights.
Lost had the concept, talent and first season to be the greatest show of all time. It didn’t get there, by most’s estimation. A great show, but after Season 1 too inconsistent. I argue the focus shifting from character to plot, prevented true greatness in a way.
ABC’s Once Upon A Time has clear connections to Lost, aside from two Lost writers in Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis creating it. It borrows the flashback structure and character development it brings, films its head-to-head conversations similarly intensely and has a fondness for villains with moral grey area - with Regina and Rumplestiltskin matching if not surpassing even the great Ben and Locke as characters. Like Lost the show goes as far as the emotion and heart of its characters take it. The writers also had fun stuffing in Lost reference and Easter eggs to Once, sharing chocolate bars, whiskey bottles, guest cast-members and those oh so reuccuring numbers. Once in many ways feels as if a 2nd album, to Lost's 1st.
Early on, I suspected Once’s great disadvantage compare to Lost would be that the town of Storybrooke, hands over none of the exciting plot opportunities that a magical Island does. A town is just a town. The flashbacks may be as great as Lost’s, but how to maintain as much momentum in the present day scenes?
Yet whether it’s by necessity by this setting, or because Horowitz and Kitsis learned the lesson from Lost - this is where Once differs from Lost to become the superior, not inferior show. Once maintains momentum in Storybrooke solely on the back of its characters, who are developed with even more complexity and conflict than Lost’s. One advantage it has over Lost, is the history of its characters going deep into the past gives more complexity to their present day relationships. The fate of Once’s characters, past present and future, is more directly connected to each other than in Lost. The past is an even stronger animal in Once than in Lost, with both these relationships and the actions of the past as inescapably hunting down its characters.
Once seems more aware of its relationship with its characters than Lost was. Through 2 seasons, it’s shown no signs of forgetting that it lives and dies with these people, their conflicts with each other and their psychology. The plot may be 2nd only to Lost’s in twisted complexity, but the characters take center stage at all times - taking a Lost Season 1 approach, instead of Seasons 2 to 6. Lost was a great show, one of the best. But Once is surpassing it for me, with its hyper-focus on its characters first creating a richer show and array of souls hurtling towards their fate.