“The Next Lost” Has Been Here All Along

For everyone who wonders when we’ll find the next Lost, I have some news for you: It’s already here. A show that flashes forwards and backwards in time, has labyrinthine continuity and is centered around one big mystery? That can only be CBS’ long-running sitcom How I Met Your Mother.

I admit, it sounds ridiculous to suggest that a sitcom – especially one on CBS, traditionally the oldest-skewing, least-experimental of the broadcast networks – is the obvious natural successor to one of the most acclaimed genre series of the last decade or two. And, sure, if all you’re looking for from “the new Lost” is some psychic kid who’ll disappear after a season, or perhaps a monster made out of smoke, then you’ll definitely find yourself disappointed by HIMYM, because this is a show firmly grounded in (an admittedly skewed version of) reality, where science fiction doesn’t really exist, as such. But if what you’re looking for is something that plays with narrative convention as much as Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse’s show ever did – if not more so – then this is definitely the show for you.

To wit: Tonight’s season premiere takes place in three distinct periods: The future (The framing sequence of a future Ted, the series’ main character, telling his kids how he met their mother), the present (Everyone at Barney’s wedding), and the past (The majority of the episode). This isn’t that unusual for the show; episodes normally take place in at least two time periods, although three isn’t too uncommon, and I’m pretty sure we’ve even seen four approached more than once. Whether consciously or not, HIMYM not only follows the cross-time formula of Lost, but manages to surpass it with one simple addition: Almost everything in the series is a story told by the future Ted, and he is an increasingly unreliable narrator – which means that, not only are there plenty of plot threads that are there to legitimately keep track of, but there are also many that are intentional dead ends to be corrected, ignored or clarified later.

And, oh man, the number of things to keep track of. The show has an astonishing number of threads that return as late as years after its initial mention: Slapsgiving/The remaining free slap. The sandwich metaphor. The girl with the yellow umbrella. Robin’s weird Canadian past as a pop star. The mystery about just what it is that Barney actually does at Goliath National Bank. Of course, there’s also the big question: Who is the future mother of Ted’s children? Admittedly, it’s not exactly “What is the island?” – You can happily watch How I Met Your Mother and not care about the answer at all – but it’s a nice hook upon which to keep everything and everyone moving forward… and, because it’s not as central to your understand of, or enjoyment of, the show, there’s much less chance that you’ll end up retroactively hating the series when you finally get the answer.

For a show that embraces such a heavy continuity – Seriously, there can be more plot/character development in a season of HIMYM as a season of, say, Grey’s Anatomy – the show nonetheless remains surprisingly open and available for new viewers, a trick that Lost… well, lost, very early on. If you’re not watching, there’s one way to prove this for yourself: Tune into tonight’s episode, and see whether you can keep up with what’s going on. And then see if you keep watching into the second episode, and find yourself hooked.

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Comments

  • Anonymous

    my sister might love this idea or hate it completely.

  • w1n5t0n

    I loved Lost and I started watching HIMYM a few years back. it never occured to me but you are absolutly right.

  • Axle911

    I thougth the biggest question of the show was “Why does a sitcom in this day and age use a laugh track?”

  • Cover55555

    Not a bad show, but it’s an on and off again type to me. Lost had me for a good 5 seasons, with one being lost to a busy schedule.

  • stealthwise

    This show is about a dozen times better than Lost at its peak.  I’m amazed they’ve produced six seasons at such a high level of quality, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

  • Anonymous

    Waitasec… I thought tonight’s episode took place in the present, the future, and the future’s future.

    And, yeah, the world-building is amazing. I even think I saw the woman who played the bride that introduced Ted and Victoria during season one in another episode not too long ago.

  • Dekko

    Yeah, the writer got it wrong – the kids are the distant future, Barney’s wedding is the not so distant future and the rest is the present.

    I like how he mentions that Ted’s not the most reliable narrator.  It allows for all sorts of inconsistencies since the entire show is Ted’s story, he can always misremember things or intentionally leave things out when he’s talking to his kids.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKN5MHOI6VUFOYCTV5REK7M7A4 Jacob

    Like the goat in the bathroom.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKN5MHOI6VUFOYCTV5REK7M7A4 Jacob

    Because it works for a show like this? At least it’s legitimate.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKN5MHOI6VUFOYCTV5REK7M7A4 Jacob

    I was going into this thinking “God, here he fucking goes again…” But… Damnit all, you’re right. Even if you completely missed the point of “The next Lost“, you’re still right on the points you were making. “The next Lost” refers to a show that manages to capture audiences in a way that defies expectations. Lost was a phenomenon and networks have been trying to reproduce that effect since. No one has succeeded. Some have gotten close (Fringe had a very strong premiere [for it's second episode]), but even then, it’s not a phenomenon. “The next Lost” is a pipe dream. You can’t plan or force or produce a phenomenon, it just happens. That is literally the definition.

  • David

    Good analogy, lost was a terrible tv show that kept going on and on for no reason, exactly like how i met your mother!

  • Jcupach

    What’s nice is that they supposedly taped the end of the show already so that the kids in 2030 aren’t going to have aged from the first season. Why couldn’t the Lost writers had that kind of foresight?

  • http://twitter.com/kurtonstad Kurt Onstad

    It’s a miracle!  I agree with Graeme on something.

  • Jim

    This is easily my favorite article by Graeme ever; it’s fantastic. So fantastic, in fact, I linked to it on my own blog, http://shootinstraighterthanastormtrooper.blogspot.com

    Yeah, I’m not above a shameless plug!

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I like this show. But seasons 1 and 2 were my favorites. Something changed when it went into season 3. The comedy changed – a little more out there. 

  • Anonymous

    I thought they hadn’t aged! I know we don’t see them every ep – but season to season they look exactly the same.

    And the son is on the witches of waverley place ( or something like that) And he is definately alot older – and totally buff now! haha… ;)

  • Kyle

    i used to like this show, but quite frankly the hanging question has been left unanswered for 6 years so i got bored with it and left, ill watch the occasional episode but its hardly must see tv. its getting so hell be too old to be the father of these kids at this rate.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKN5MHOI6VUFOYCTV5REK7M7A4 Jacob

    They haven’t aged. All of the scenes with them are stock footage.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKN5MHOI6VUFOYCTV5REK7M7A4 Jacob

    I wouldn’t put either of those kids higher than 15 years old. That means he’s still got four years to meet her.