The evolution of good television

Photo by Brenda Lin

Gentlemen, remove your hats, because this week marks the ten year anniversary of the premiere of ABC’s Lost, that epic sci-fi drama about those weird people on that one island that also happens to be my personal favorite television show of all time.

And all my haters can kindly step to the left, because, despite any mixed reactions that the show received in response to its more edgy plot choices, Lost remains one of the most critically acclaimed and talked about shows in recent history. It even managed to rack up 11 Primetime Emmy Award wins throughout its six-year run.

But rather than constructing a 100 page manifesto on why Sun and Jin are the power couple this world both needs and deserves, or on exactly how much physical and metaphorical ass Juliet kicks per episode, I figured I would give my readers a break and instead talk about what exactly makes a television drama show “good,” at least by the standards of popular opinion.

Readers, buckle your seatbelts, because you are in for some pretty general information that you probably already knew. Let’s just do it anyway.

First and foremost, great television shows have great writing. Writing is what creates the characters, whether they are brooding, funny, insane or annoying, and it is what establishes the situations and dynamics that they share.

Lost could have taken place in a dingy, cubicle-filled office in Pennsylvania rather than an mysterious tropical island, and I still would have tuned in every week to see if Jack had worked out his internal issues, or who Ben would betray next, because the show is a character-driven one above all else.

Furthermore, shows that try to please viewers every week with flimsily contrived storylines are rarely considered the best of the bunch; more often than not, great television does not give you what you want.

In fact, sometimes the best dramas just plain kick your heart where it hurts. Fan favorites like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones kill off so many (sometimes) beloved characters every season that it’s a wonder there is anyone left alive to slice open zombie brains with katana swords or drink unhealthy amounts of wine while discussing medieval politics.

And yet, the fan bases for both shows grow by the millions with each passing year, because ultimately, viewers don’t want to be pampered.

They want to be shocked, and they want to experience heartbreak, because it just makes the show more real and therefore more relatable.

Overall, the formula for a great, gripping television drama is an evolving one, forever reacting to the trends and technologies of the time.

Shows like House of Cards and True Detective have certainly shown that success can be found through experimenting with new forms of television, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what type of shows viewers will be eagerly tuning in to in the coming decades.

But one thing remains certain: the best shows are not here to please. They are here to blaze trails into new territories of story, characterization and genre, and expand upon the overall quality and possibilities of television as a result.

Also, Lost is the best.