Gillian Flynn on ”Lost,” ”Grey’s,” and ”Betty”
All right, you Lost apologists, Grey’s Anatomy gushers, and Ugly Betty boosters! I must now interrupt your lovefests and say that you are wrong. None of those ABC dramas — which, fine, are all technically top 20 shows — are as good as you think they are.
Lost lovers hedge about this third season: They claim that the once-great drama is having what sports fans would euphemistically call a ”rebuilding year.” Be patient, they say, mysteries will be solved, a bone will be thrown. Sit back and enjoy the endless shots of heaving jungle and urgent flashlights and mysterious boxes. (Damnable overhyped boxes, hatches, cupboards, nesting dolls — Lost is becoming one long subliminal commercial for The Container Store.) All these hideaways and hidden rooms have come to represent the show itself: anticlimactic, teasing, and a bit hollow. A solid mystery is a glorious thing — sly clues can float a show for quite a while. Like two and one-third seasons.
Now Lost is treading water. The tossed-off literary references — Ayn Rand, Jules Verne, Dickens — don’t flatter me into thinking I’m being taken seriously. The Others — so wonderfully, eerily introduced — are now about as ominous as Dockers-clad suburban neighbors. Sawyer (Josh Holloway), once a perfectly rotten scoundrel, is now as neutered as a pound puppy. I mean, really, symbolically burying a handful of diamonds with a dead couple? Apologizing and kowtowing to his neighbors? This guy’s getting as boring as Jack (Matthew Fox). And enough with the no-longer-surprising connections between all the islanders. The characters-bumping-into-other-characters-unknowingly has become such a given it borders on the ludicrous: I’m waiting for a flashback where Hurley (Jorge Garcia) accidentally opens a bathroom stall door on an embarrassed Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) when they both happen to be at a party hosted by Mr. Eko. Yes, my patience has waned, and I must turn my attention to another mystery-filled box. It’s called my TV. I’m about to turn it off.
Grey’s Anatomy never pretended to be as deep as Lost. At its best, it’s a serious guilty pleasure: death, disease, hot bodies swaddled in scrubs. But, frankly, the women are awful. Izzie (Katherine Heigl) is a flippy, floppy, weepy creature, less a believable human being than a lovely figure who can be propped dramatically amid mourning muffins. Cristina (Sandra Oh) is a selfish, sharp-tongued harpy, and Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) is a whiny woman who, despite decades of navel-gazing, doesn’t know her own mind — but expects everyone else to. People marvel that so many men watch Grey’s Anatomy, and here’s my theory: The men of Grey’s are dreamy, understanding, strong, loving fellows, the kind of guys who smile sympathetically through their lady friends’ most ridiculous harangues. The men pretty much rock. The majority of Grey’s women are bitchy, self-absorbed, moody female characters that people like to call ”flawed” or ”complicated.” Really, they’re just nasty. Which, conversely, is part of the charm for women viewers. If you’re ”complicated,” what better reassurance than a show lauding ”complicated” women? If you’re not, how wonderful you look in comparison! If the possible spin-off with wry Addison Montgomery (the lovely Kate Walsh) gets greenlit, I hope she hits the door at a run and washes her hands of all those crazy Seattle Grace broads in one go. Callie (Sara Ramirez) can visit.
As for Ugly Betty, I do not say it’s a bad show. It’s simply overrated. America Ferrera is charming as the under-hot, underdog magazine assistant; her snotty co-workers are, indeed, snotty; and the series is good-natured to a fault. But Betty isn’t doing anything new — it doesn’t warrant being treated as a phenomenon. (And if you’re about to patronizingly explain it’s a telenovela, don’t.) The Fey Sommers murder plotline, never original, has grown offensively old. True, as the magazine’s boozy matriarch, Judith Light has been a vermouthy bracer. But not since Desperate Housewives’ Betty Applewhite Basement Boy mystery have I cared less about who did what and why. And while I’m pleased that our Betty is no longer the object of total ridicule that she was at the season’s start, it’s still not funny when she runs into walls (again, I could mention Desperate Housewives here, a fellow ABC drama that has smartly cut back on such predictable gags). A comedy should make people laugh because of sharp dialogue and clever situations. Too often Betty coasts on good will, flashy fashions, easy put-downs, and nifty sets. It’s a pretty package, but Betty herself would insist on more. Lost: C-; Grey’s: C; Betty: C+