Lost was a seminal television series that changed the face of network offerings. Steeped in mystery, staffed with a large cast, questioning human nature and philosophy, the show took six years to play out, sometimes doling out the clues in tidbits, other times in waves.
When it came to an end in 2010, whether fans loved the ending or hated it, many were saddened. Why not? They devoted years of their lives watching the show, countless hours debating it with their friends, and became extremely invested in the characters. Losing such a treasure is a big blow, and not one easily recoverable. It takes a very, very special series to replace such a loss.
I believe that Once Upon a Time has the potential to be that replacement.
How can I say that, considering that the beginning of both shows are quite different? On their faces, one is a modern day tale about a group of strangers trapped on an island, while the other involves fairy tale characters traversing world and possessing magic. And yet, there is so much the two have in common. While Once Upon a Time fervor may not yet have hit Lost heights, it still can, especially if it continues to travel the same path, and as more viewers discover it online and on disc.
Some of these similarities are obvious. Both shows air(ed) on ABC. They share producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis. Both count Emilie de Ravin among their stars and Alan Dale as a recurring, but vital, player. One of the most beloved actors from Lost, Jorge Garcia, recently guest starred on Once Upon a Time. Both delight in surprising the fans, making quick turns that change the game.
But it goes deeper than that, by far. For one thing, both deal with differing personalities within the same person, and how these people present themselves to the world. When we meet John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) on the island, he seems confident and sure of himself, not afraid to take a leadership position. Then we learn his back story, and see what has led him to this moment, discovering he was once a very different person, but is now embracing the new Locke. Yet, he is still not done growing. Similarly, Regina (Lana Parrilla) is an evil Mayor / Queen, who has a past that has changed her into this person, which she embraces. Until she doesn’t.
Both shows have very complicated characters that look a little odd, and may or may not be bad, but are played by such fantastic actors that the audience cannot get enough of them. I refer, of course, to Ben Linus (Michael Emerson) and Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle). Do we root for them? More than we’d like to, sometimes. They have done detestable things, and deserve to be reviled. But any excuse to see them on screen is a good one, and when exposing their vulnerabilities, they are at their best.
Both shows feature different worlds. On Lost, this was a little less obvious, but the present day mainland is quite different from the island locale, and, in turn, the 1970s Dharma compound, in which several characters from this millennium spend some time. On Once Upon a Time, they’ve gone the more literal route, presenting Storybrooke, fairy tale land, Wonderland, and even a black and white horror realm. Each of these places has different rules and different players that familiar characters must navigate and interact with. But Storybrooke might as well be an island, isolated from the rest of the world, and obeying different laws of nature.
Both shows like to begin a season with a new setting and character, startling the audience, and making the series feel fresh. Desmond’s (Henry Ian Cusick) introduction in the hatch is one of Lost‘s most memorable moments, making an impression that still amazes to this day. Meeting Neal (Michael Raymond-James) at the start of season two of Once Upon a Time feels like it is exactly in the vein.
Both shows have a huge supporting cast of characters, some of which appear often, and some only pop up from time to time. These characters can be connectors, tying central players together in unexpected ways, or they may arrive to teach a lesson, or begin a quest, or fall in love, or they may just be interesting side stories. Everyone has their favorites (Nestor Carbonell’s Richard, or Jessy Schram’s Cinderella, or Amy Acker’s Astrid, or Katey Sagal’s Helen, or Sonya Walger’s Penny), but there is no telling how often they may appear, or what importance they will or will not hold.
Both shows have an annoying kid, and benefit when he is featured less. I’m sorry, even though Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) can be a decent addition to certain episodes, he is also a drag on plenty of others. Lost kind of has a similar problem with Walt (Malcolm David Kelley), whom they promptly have kidnapped, and then send home. This wouldn’t work with Henry, as Emma (Jennifer Morrison) would become just as obsessed with finding her son as Michael (Harold Perrineau) does, which would ruin her character on the show, and she isn’t as expendable. Walt still appears from time to time throughout Lost, and it he ends up furthering the plot and becomes not as grating over time. But less is more with many child actors, and the writers would do well to remember that.
Both shows feature a flawed savior. Everyone believes in Jack (Matthew Fox) most of the time, but he isn’t always capable of making the best decisions. He is reluctant to assume the leadership role, but it is something he naturally falls back on because he wants to save everyone. He also has made mistakes in the past. Emma is like Jack, trying to be a good person and do the right thing, despite what she may have previously done, and she has the ability to be a protector, unlike most other characters.
Both shows are willing to execute major characters, or send them away, leaving room to inject new blood, or expand a smaller role. Lost did this repeatedly, with some of the casualties including Boone (Ian Somerhalder), Charlie (Dominic Monaghan), and Libby (Cynthia Watros). Once Upon a Time, not quite halfway through season two, has already killed off Sheriff Graham (Jamie Dornan), had August (Eion Bailey) go missing, demoted Jiminey (Raphael Sbarge), and promoted Belle (de Ravin) and Ruby (Meghan Ory). But as any good Lost fan knows, characters can return at any time in the most unexpected places, so I wouldn’t count out any of these people yet. Not even the deceased Sheriff Graham, because…
Both shows feature flashbacks heavily, and often. Everyone knows that a good way to learn about a character is to explore their past. But most television shows use this element sparingly. Lost and Once Upon a Time build entire episodes around such back stories, making them significant chunks of the episodes on a weekly basis, and tying the past to the present. When done right, it’s clever and entertaining.
Mysteries abound. Why can’t the Storybrooke residents leave their town? How can the island move? Where is Rumple’s son? What is the sideways universe? Who is Dr. Whale (David Anders)? How did polar bears get on the island? Some of these questions are answered quickly, others take a longer period of time. Some things will never fully be explained. But always keeping questions coming, never telling the full story, keeps the show energized, and brings fans back week after week.
Plus, they both like smoke (purple or black, it doesn’t matter) a whole lot.
Will Once Upon a Time catch the wonderment and following that Lost possessed at its height? Does that really matter, as long as it is allowed to run for years, and play out a sprawling, intricate story? The point is, if you are a Lost-ie looking for something to fill that hole in your life and you haven’t given Once Upon a Time a chance yet (past the first few, admittedly poor, episodes), you are missing out. They may seem like very different series, but they have major similarities that should definitely appeal to the same types of people.
Did I miss anything? The answer is most definitely (SPOILER ALERT!) yes. Feel free to weigh in on the comments below.