THE WATER COOLER
Emmy strands 'Lost' actors
No one's saying it's easy to give those big, broody performances.
Neither Matthew Fox nor Elizabeth Mitchell were nominated. (Mario Perez / ABC)
You could chalk up this seeming inconsistency to the nature of ensemble drama -- who are the leads in a narrative that continually shifts focus, in a cast that expands and contracts like some aberrant half-molten landmass? Matthew Fox as Jack? Evangeline Lilly as Kate? But the acting categories are judged by single episodes. Last season Yunjin Kim's Sun and Jorge Garcia's Hurley got tons of air time and some pretty dramatic moments. And what about Elizabeth Mitchell as Juliet Burke? Or Terry O'Quinn as Locke? Are we honestly saying that none of these folks delivered performances to rival James Spader's or Mariska Hargitay's? Please.
The problem is not so much the form as the genre. Fantasy never plays big at awards time. Special effects? Yes. Writing? Maybe. Acting? Almost never. It's as if we don't take fantasy seriously enough to consider the embodiment of its characters real acting. But what could be more challenging than creating a consistent realistic character in a world bereft of the usual dramatic touchstones -- no courtrooms on the island, no crime scenes or operating rooms (or at least not functional ones), no vibrant Miami streets or Boston skylines to convey depravity or isolation or urban cool.
No one's saying it's easy to give those big, broody performances -- damaged cops and doctors, scheming lawyers and criminals -- that we all love so much. But the success of "Lost" is not due solely to the terrific concept and self-annotating layers of cultural reference. When the writers seemed to lose their way in the middle season, it was the actors who held our interest by bringing recognizable human flaws and strengths and emotion to plots that gave us polar bears, fertility experiments and underground hepcat pads.
The best drama nomination is well-deserved and Emerson, who has created the most tantalizing enigma on television, should win if only because he has been beaten up in almost every episode and still conveyed that menacing power. But here's to the rest of the castaways who manage to do what all the best actors do, only with smoke monsters and hallucinations and no chance of asking, "But what's my motivation?" Ever.