Nancy Franklin is one of my favorite TV critics -- basically because she isn't a TV critic, but a writer who thinks creatively about television (the business, the content, the social impact). Hence, the excitement that struck me yesterday upon seeing that she had finally taken on J.J. Abrams's "Lost" in her most recent column. Unlike other critiques, Franklin's articulates perfectly the reason "Lost" has its hold on both TV addicts and network detractors. It's a show that toys with itself, at once mocking its inherent absurdity in our "Survivor"-driven, war-on-terror global culture and then, at times, driving headlong through it with absolute conviction.
The characters make up a mini U.N.—in addition to Jack and Kate, who are white Americans, there’s a Korean couple, an African-American father and son, a one-hit British rock musician and heroin addict, an Iraqi communications expert (the show upped its ante considerably by making this character a former member of the Republican Guard).
Another example of Abrams's meta humor is the titling of one of the first season's later episodes "Deus ex machina." It's the show where Locke and Boone, before the latter perishes, find a second plane hanging over a cliff -- a seemingly forced narrative event mocked in the name of its chapter. So, yes, Franklin is surely onto something.
The problem with her article -- and I offer this critique in the most respectable spirit possible -- is that she strays far off course as she ties things up, missing the boat on the show's musical score, a product of composer Michael Giacchino. To wit:
“Lost” relies a little too heavily on shaky-cam effects and bang-on-a-can music for its unsettling quality.
In fact, Giacchino's music, as you may have read in these pages, follows religiously the witty "meta" attitude that renders "Lost" so delicious to Franklin. His music can be enjoyed for it surface virtues: a Dr. Moreau-ian antidote to stranded-island drama tunes made of Bach-quality chorales, low harp plucks, and atonal clusters. But it is also never too quick to take itself and its show too seriously, life-lovingly employing ponticello tremolos and jaggedly beat drums to thoroughly locate the drama in its genre -- in a decades-long dialogue about what genre means. It is this perpetually written orchestral score, indeed, that gives the show much of the flavor Franklin enjoys, even if she isn't consciously aware of this. Without it, "Lost" would have to work much harder to both provide the narrative escapism we love and tartly skewer its existence. (P.S. The phrase "Bang On A Can" also isn't an insult anymore...)