Does a popular mythology-laden TV show or film series need to stick the landing to be viable in the streaming world? This question came up around “Game of Thrones” in a recent “Binge Mode” episode.
I’ve been thinking about this in relation to my own viewing habits. Back in the day, when TV networks had all the juice and DVRs were still novelties, I wrote about “Lost.” It was a wonderful experience that connected me to people who shared my enthusiasm for the series. “Lost” meant a lot to me.
But here’s the weird thing: It’s been 10 years since “Lost” went off the air and I haven’t rewatched the show.
I don’t have ill feelings toward “Lost.” I’m in the minority of fans who liked the finale. I had a sense the end wasn’t going to wrap everything up because it was clear the creators preferred questions to answers. When the show leaned into its spiritual side in the final episode, I was satisfied with the ambiguous conclusion.
Yet, even with this sense of satisfaction, I haven’t revisited “Lost.” It’s not the time investment (I’ve rewatched other shows during this period). It’s not the complicated storylines (I’ve watched every episode of “The Expanse” at least twice so I can catch every detail). It’s not the uneven quality of 22-episode seasons (“Fringe” had some clunkers but I still love rewatching it). I just don’t go back to “Lost.”
I think what might be at play is the weird alchemy of public perception. It’s not my conscious perception. Rather, it’s the cloud of disappointment that’s surrounded “Lost” since it ended. It’s the way people use the finale as shorthand for “unmet expectations.” When I consider a “Lost” rewatch and the investment that’ll require, I pass because there’s this notion the series isn’t worth it.
Now, I know that’s not actually true. Any show that can produce a classic episode like “The Constant” has considerable merit. Yet, this perception is enough of an obstacle for me–a person with a deep fondness for “Lost”–to find something else to watch.
Had “Lost” been a less popular piece of culture–like “Fringe” or “Battlestar Galactica”–I’m sure it wouldn’t carry this burden of perception. But that seems to be the cost of popularity for mythologically dense material. Look at the disappointment that follows “Game of Thrones” and the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy. These series made money and had moments of greatness, but will they become recurring revenue streams for HBO Max and Disney+? Will they become assets in the streaming wars? I doubt it.
A perfect ending is shaped by skill, context, and luck. You can’t manufacture these qualities, and that runs counter to how most corporations function. This is why I’m concerned that an over focus on endings could lead to less funding for the risky and expensive myth-driven media I love. If a great ending is a requirement for a rewatch, and a great ending can’t be guaranteed, it’s tough to justify the investment.
Maybe my concern is misplaced. Maybe streaming services will take big swings because attention generates new subscriptions and those are more valuable than repeat viewing. But I’m wary. At some point, growth will max out, focus will turn to churn, and all of the rewatch-friendly series will be fortified by lucrative exclusivity deals. What happens to myth media then?