Tag Archives: Damon Lindelof

Reaching for ‘The Leftovers’: HBO’s Return to Studio Productions

HBOWBEarlier today, HBO announced it was picking up Damon Lindelof’s The Leftovers; this wasn’t a surprising pickup given the talent involved, but what was a bit more surprising was that the series is not being produced in-house at HBO.

Although HBO has been developing drama projects through other studios for a while now—always through big-name producers like Lindelof, or Shawn Ryan, or Ryan Murphy, or J.J. Abrams who are under overall deals with studios like Warner Bros., Sony Pictures Television, or 20th Century Fox—it was still a surprise to see a press release show up in my inbox from Warner Bros. Television about an HBO show. The Leftovers is the first such show to be ordered to series, and thus the first in what is likely to be a string of new HBO shows that they don’t fully own (although as was noted on Twitter, Time Warner owns HBO, so this remains in the corporate family).

It’s not uncharted territory for HBO (who co-produced Sex & the City with Warner Bros., and who entered a similar deal with ABC for Stephen Merchant’s Hello Ladies due to their overall deal with co-writers Stupnitsky/Eisenberg), but it’s a reversal of their more recent policy of owning shows they air and also the opposite of what’s happening in basic cable. At the same time AMC is shying away from working with studios like Lionsgate or Sony Pictures Television in the wake of disputes with those producers on Mad Men and Breaking Bad, HBO is reopening its doors to other studios, an interesting shift that privileges an emerging trend in development while—potentially—de-emphasizing a focus on distribution central to the HBO model.

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Top 10 Episodes of 2010: “The End” (Lost)

“The End”

Aired: March 23rd, 2010

[Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Episodes of 2010 are in no particular order, and are purely subjective – for more information, and the complete list as it goes up, click here.]

Last year, in making a similar list, I put Battlestar Galactica’s “Daybreak” on it, and as one would expect it proved somewhat divisive. The fact of the matter is that I loved the poetry of the BSG finale while acknowledging some of its shortcuts, and in many ways the controversy surrounding it only made it more likely to find its way onto a list like this one; my investment becomes stronger when I feel as if there is a groundswell to reject the finale entirely based largely on principles of television viewership which I don’t entirely understand. This is not to say that I start a crusade to change their minds, but rather that I become very interested in discovering where they’re coming from.

It’s almost scary how much of a carbon copy the reaction to “The End” has been for me. Last week, when Dan Harmon snuck in a dig at Lost’s sense of “payoff” in the Community Christmas episode, watching my Twitter feed’s reaction was a microcosm of larger opinions: some laughed along, the joke confirming their pre-existing dismissal of Lost’s conclusion, while others became legitimately angry at the off-hand dig. Personally, I laughed, but only because I don’t feel as if I am particularly defensive of “The End” (even if I totally understand why some people are).

I loved “The End,” which should be obvious considering that it’s on this list, but I love the fact that people hated it perhaps even more. I think that Lost, as a television series, will be remembered not so much for its story but for how its story was told; as a fan, this disappoints me, but as a critic and scholar it makes the series’ legacy far more important to the future of television. “The End” was a finale that was never going to please everyone, and so Lindelof and Cuse’s decision to not even bother trying was admirable, reckless, and ultimately one of the most affecting episodes of television of the past year.

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The Trick is to Actually Watch TV: The 2010 Emmy Nominations

The Trick is to Actually Watch TV: The 2010 Emmy Nominations

July 8th, 2010

The Emmy nominations (which you can find in full here) are less a sign of what’s truly great on television and a more a sign of what the Emmy voters have actually been watching.

Series and performers are nominated for Emmys for one of two reasons: either the Academy members watched episodes carefully and saw them deserving of an award, or they looked at their ballots and chose a familiar name, a much buzzed-about series, or the first name on the ballot. And, frankly, most years the latter seemed to be their modus operandi, to the point where I’ve started to disassociate voters with any notion of television viewership – I’m not even convinced most of them own televisions.

However, for once, I’d say that the 2010 Emmy nominations seem to have been made by people who actually enjoy the medium, with plenty of evidence to demonstrate that voters actually watched many of the shows they nominated and discovered not only the most hyped elements of that series but also those elements which are truly deserving of Emmys attention. There are still plenty of examples where it’s clear that Emmy voters didn’t truly bother to watch the series in question, and all sorts of evidence which indicates that the Emmy voters suffer from a dangerously selective memory and a refusal to let go of pay cable dramedies, but the fact remains that this is the most hopeful Emmy year in recent memory.

It isn’t that every nominee is perfect, but rather that there is evidence of Academy voters sitting down in front of their television and watching more than a single episode of the shows in question, making them less like soulless arbiters of quality and more like actual television viewers – it might not stick, but for a few moments it’s nice to finally see some nominees that indicate voters aren’t so much different from us after all.

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Official Ballot Miscellany

Official Ballot Miscellany

June 4th, 2010

Earlier this evening, Emmy voting officially began; this isn’t particularly important to us non-voters, but it does mean that the official ballots were released (PDFs: Performers, Writing, Directing), which means that we know who submitted their names for Emmy contention and can thus make our predictions accordingly. In some cases, this simply confirms our earlier submissions regarding particularly categories, while in other cases it throws our expectations for a loop as frontrunners or contenders don’t end up submitting at all.

For example, Cherry Jones (who last year won for her work on 24) chose not to submit her name for contention this year, a decision which seems somewhat bizarre and is currently being speculatively explained by her unhappiness with her character’s direction in the show’s final season. It completely changes the anatomy of that race, removing a potential frontrunner and clearing the way for some new contenders (or, perhaps, another actress from Grey’s Anatomy). Either way, it’s a real shakeup, so it makes this period particularly interesting.

I will speak a bit about some surprising omissions and inclusions in the categories I’ve already covered this week, but I want to focus on the categories that I haven’t discussed yet, including the guest acting categories, writing, and direction, which are some interesting races this year.

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Series Finale: Lost – “The End”

“The End”

May 23rd, 2010

“There are no shortcuts, no do-overs – what happened, happened. All of this matters.”

[For more of my thoughts on “The End,” check out my analysis of the critical response to the episode, which expands on some of the points I raise here while bringing up arguments that I didn’t get to.]

I don’t know where to begin.

I know how I feel about “The End” because I have notes which capture my intense emotional responses to the action onscreen. I also know many of the points I want to make about the episode as a whole, and how it fits into the sixth season, and how it works with the remainder of the series. In fact, I could probably write every other part of this review but the first sentence, and I’d probably be able to fill it in just fine after the fact.

However, that would be dishonest: it would make you think that I, the moment I sat down at my desk after the finale finished airing, knew precisely the topic sentence which would boil this finale down, the words that would unearth its secrets and solve its mysteries. I may know the things I want to say, and I may have my opinions about the quality of this finale, but I don’t know what I can really say to get it all started.

As the quote above indicates, and as I believe the finale embodied, there are no do-overs: what happened, happened, which is why you’re reading a short meandering consideration rather than a definitive statement. “The End” lacks any definitive statements: we learn nothing about what the island really is, we get no new information about the Dharma Initiative or any of the people involved, and the episode leans towards spiritual conclusiveness rather than any resolution of the series narrative. Lost doesn’t try to end in a way which closes off its plot holes or pieces together its own meandering qualities, but rather creates an episode that says the journey was worthwhile, that the time these characters spent with each other and the time we spent with these characters was all worth it.

And for all of the questions that we may still have – and trust me, I think all of us still have questions – I firmly believe that the quality of this series finale and the overall quality of the series simply cannot be among them. Beautiful and heartwrenching, “The End” captures more than any other series finale I’ve watched the sum total of the series’ experience, awakening in viewers the same power of recall which pulls together half of the series’ narrative.

Lost was more than our experience, featuring a complex plot which goes beyond those powerful and emotional moments so lovingly punctuated by Michael Giacchino’s stirring music, but I feel “The End” paid respect to the series that’s been: it may have taken shortcuts, and it may have prioritized certain questions differently than some viewers, but at no point did it feel like the series was making that argument that what we saw tonight was the only thing that mattered.

All of this matters, for better or for worse, and by wearing its heart and soul on its sleeve Lost has gone out the same way it came in: presenting a very big world with some very big ideas through the eye(s) of those who live their lives within it.

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The Lost Weekend: In Defence of “Exposé”

In Defence of “Exposé”

May 21st, 2010

As we come to the end of Lost’s run, people like to write lists: most of these lists will feature “Favourite” characters, episodes or scenes over the past six seasons, but there’s a chance that many of them will focus on the “Worst” of the same. I don’t know if I’m really up for making lists of my own (especially since I put together my own list of important episodes before Season 6 began), but I do want to say one thing:

If I see “Exposé” on a single “Worst Episode” list [like this one, which is even more despicable since it uses “Pointless”], I am going to be incredibly angry.

I may not have loved the episode initially (my “review” from three years ago is a little all over the map), so I can’t say I’ve always held this belief, but over time I have become part of the minority who feel that “Exposé” was an intriguing episode which successfully made lemons out of lemonade. While there are bad episodes of Lost (see: “Stranger in a Strange Land”) which in their failures elucidate some of the show’s growing pains at various points within its narrative, “Exposé” is precisely the opposite: it is a confident hour of television, entirely sure of its function of bringing to a close an intriguing, if failed, experiment in the series’ narrative in a meaningful and memorable fashion.

As Lost has continued, and we’ve learned more about the island and the central themes to the series, I’ve become convinced that there is no way anyone could argue that “Exposé” is not a pivotal episode in the series’ development. Whether you choose to view it as hidden foreshadowing or (more likely) as successful retroactive storytelling, the episode captures in a single episode the complex morality plays which have been unfolding for six seasons, crafting a compelling standalone narrative that we can now see as a microcosm for the series’ larger conflicts.

In other words, I’m tired of the haters, and I’m here to tell you why.

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Lost in Lost’s Critical Culture: A Response to the New York Times

Lost in Lost’s Critical Culture

May 20th, 2010

The end of Lost is going to create a deluge of pieces celebrating the show, but it’s also going to create a lot of pieces which claim quite the opposite. I don’t want to suggest that the latter is in some way invalid, as not everyone is required to be a fan of the show, and there are plenty of arguments to be made that Lost’s success sent the other networks on a wild goose chase for a similar series which has in some ways crippled dramatic development over the past number of years.

These pieces are going to be a dime a dozen this week, but I want to make a few comments regarding Mike Hale’s piece at the New York Times, “In ‘Lost,’ Mythology Trumps Mystery,” where he makes some fairly contentious arguments. The piece, which reads as if it could be an artifact from the show’s third season as much as its sixth, makes the claim that Lost’s only good season was its first, which I would personally contest but which is Hale’s opinion. I don’t agree with his classification of the show, and I have some concerns with the way in he boils down the series to suit his argument, but he’s entitled to dislike the show as much as he likes.

However, I am personally offended at the way in which Hale attacks those people who do like the show, especially those who choose to write about it. It is one thing to say that Lost itself has failed to live up to his own expectations, but it’s quite another to make the claim that critics and fans have become sheep being led by Shepherds Lindelof and Cuse – not only is this patently untrue of critics of the series, but it is also belittling to those fans whose Lost experience has been enriched, rather than obfuscated, through the interactive experience of watching this series.

There is room for a critical analysis of the ways in which the relationship between Lost and its fans has been managed, but Hale is more interested in vilifying rather than embracing its complexity, and it makes for a frustrating piece of journalism.

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