People have been warning of the demise of serial dramas on television for years now, and from a certain perspective, the warnings seem frighteningly accurate, what with scripted series of all shapes and sizes being canceled in favor of reality shows, soap operas lumbering toward apparent extinction, and a certain network (rhymes with shmen shmee shee) donating five hours of its weekly primetime airspace to a horribly unfunny comedian. Add that to the growing sense that audiences have lost the patience and/or intellectual capacity for shows that demand actual attention, and things seem pretty dire for TV consumers who appreciate a story that takes more than, say, 42 minutes to tell.
But then there’s Lost, flouting conventional wisdom by not only taking viewers on a prolonged trip — emphasis on the trip — but by spinning one of the densest yarns in television history. From the beginning, Lost has teased viewers with a vast, elaborate mythology; from flashbacks to Rashomon-style retellings, it’s needed every narrative trick in the book to make room for all the twists and turns in its arc. At its heart, the show is a soapy whirl of unrequited loves, shocking deaths, and shifting alliances, but it’s dressed up in such fancy clothes that few of its fans would ever suspect they’re watching Dallas on a not-quite deserted island. In fact, Lost is so overflowing with story that there’s a whole cottage industry devoted to sifting for clues. It isn’t the kind of show you want to watch while you’re doing anything else, in other words.
And guess what? Season Five upped the ante even further by introducing a new wrinkle. Time travel, ha ha! If you thought the show’s threads were tough to untangle before, good luck making sense of them through these 16 episodes — and good luck turning away from them, too. After dogpaddling through its much-maligned second and third seasons, Lost slammed into overdrive during Season Four, and the fifth batch of episodes maintains that frantic pace, offering a caffeinated blend of drama, knotty sci-fi, and white-knuckle action that kicks you in the gut even as it befuddles you. In the end, the Season Five cliffhanger does what the rest have done: Leave you checking your pulse and swearing at the calendar for putting so many empty days between you and the next season’s debut. (For the record, Season Six is scheduled to kick off February 2, 2010.)
Lost on Blu-ray looks about the way you’d expect — it’s still a TV show, so don’t go looking for James Cameron levels of visual splendor, but the picture is crisp and clear, with a soundtrack to match. But you aren’t buying the Season Five set on Blu-ray just for the added clarity — you’re in it for the bonus material, which is both plentiful and entertaining. The set’s big selling point is “Lost University,” which is exactly what it sounds like: an online college offering courses in Lost-related stuff like physics and hieroglypic reading. And it isn’t just an empty gimmick, either; the classes are taught by real professors, you earn grades for coursework, and they do help you figure out the answers to some of the show’s bazillion riddles. It’s a pretty impressive way to take advantage of the format’s potential, and it should point the way toward similar features for future releases.
Elsewhere, you get more typical stuff; the set’s other Blu-ray exclusive is “Lost 100,” a featurette about the show reaching its 100th episode, and it sits alongside five other featurettes, including a look at some of Season Five’s location shoots (“Lost on Location”), a visit to the show’s Burbank offices (“Building 23 and Beyond”), a Nestor Carbonell-hosted trip through the last day of filming (“An Epic Day with Richard Alpert”), a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how the Lost staff keeps track of where its characters are in time (“Making Up for Lost Time”), and an episode of a phony TV show from the ’80s (“Mysteries of the Universe: The Dharma Initiative”). You also get the usual audio commentaries, deleted scenes, and blooper reels, in addition to a new feature called “SeasonPlay,” which allows you to pick up exactly where you left off in your viewing without having to button-stab your way through menus.
Is any television series really worth owning on Blu-ray? I guess that depends on whether or not you have $50-$80 burning a hole in your pocket. But if you do have the dough — and a Blu-ray player, and a hi-def set — then Lost‘s Season Five set gives you everything you’d expect, adds plenty of surprises, and leaves you hungry for Season Six. If you don’t have access to the extra stuff, you most likely won’t miss it, but this is the best way to watch the show.