(SyFy) If you thought Lost was the only bizarre and beautiful metaphysical mystery ever to grace a television screen, then you missed The Lost Room. In addition to sharing a titular word, the two series shared a number of other facets: an atmosphere of limitless possibility, a focus on carefully-drawn characters, a great cast, and an abiding sense of dreamlike intensity that stays with you long after you've seen the last frame.
The premise of The Lost Room is strikingly original. It would be a shame to spoil it, because half the fun is putting the pieces together as they arrive. Suffice it to say that there are a number of Objects, and they do unusual things. They all come from the same oddly ordinary place, where something terrible happened. People want these objects very badly, and they are willing to pay exorbitant prices for them. Some are willing to kill for them.
The series focuses on Detective Joe Miller (Peter Krause, Six Feet Under, Dirty Sexy Money), whose daughter Anna (Elle Fanning, Super 8, We Bought a Zoo) has become endangered by his accidental involvement with the Objects. A number of other people work with and against him, including Jennifer Bloom (Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife, The Sopranos) and Karl Kreutzfeld (Kevin Pollak, Red State, The Usual Suspects). There's also a supporting cast of excellent character actors such as Dennis Christopher, Peter Jacobson, and Roger Bart. You may not recognize the names, but a quick glance at The Lost Room's iMDB page will confirm that you've seen them all before.
The actors take what could have been stock characters and infuse them with the rare warmth of humanity. Even the hired goons have families and backstories. The relationship between Miller and his daughter is especially believable, due in no small part to a natural chemistry between Fanning and Krause. They come across as two people who are very used to each other's company, with a genuine bond of affection. This relationship is the emotional engine of the series.
What successful paranormal shows like The Lost Room, Lost, The X-Files, Millennium, Being Human, and Supernatural all understand is that we need strong characters and strong relationships to anchor us, otherwise the weirdness will overwhelm our ability to care. One feature film which took this lesson to heart was 2002's The Mothman Prophecies—still the gold standard for films about the paranormal, in that it is both deeply terrifying and deeply moving. Little surprise, then, to learn that The Mothman Prophecies was written by Richard Hatem, who co-produced both The Lost Room and episodes of Supernatural.
The story behind The Lost Room is an interesting one. It ran for a total of six episodes in 2006 on the Syfy channel, back when it was still called SciFi. Six episodes would seem like a short window for effective storytelling, but the series manages to form a narrative that feels complete and satisfying, while leaving room for future developments (a continuation in graphic novel form has been discussed, but has yet to materialize).
The unusual aspect of The Lost Room's background is that it was written by two writers—Laura Harkcom and Christopher Leone—who essentially have written only this series and a few short films. Leone started his career in visual effects, working on shows and films as diverse as The X-Files, Romeo + Juliet, and The Cable Guy. Harkcom was an executive at Disney before leaving to write for television and for Red 5 Comics. Most of The Lost Room was directed by Craig R. Baxley, who started as a stuntman in The A-Team, M*A*S*H, and The Dukes of Hazzard, and who also acted in cult classics like The Warriors and Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
Everything about The Lost Room feels like a labor of love. These people probably knew they would only get a brief run to tell their story, and they gave it all they had. In the process, they created a unique and compelling mythology that would make most storytellers sick with envy.
The Lost Room didn't go completely unappreciated. In fact, it was nominated for two Emmys, a Saturn Award, and the writing team was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award. It also inspired a highly-successful spiritual successor called Warehouse 13, whose fourth season runs on Syfy this year. Syfy President David Howe has confirmed that Warehouse 13 was directly inspired by The Lost Room.
Like the Objects themselves, shows this good are hard to come by, and they're worth paying for. Any fan of sci-fi, magical realism, or paranormal fiction should add The Lost Room to their collection. It's a cornerstone where several genres meet, and it feels like one of Jorge Luis Borges' philosophical mysteries melded with a crime drama. Like the Eye, it will allow you to see things you never dreamed you would. You'll get that reference when you watch the show, which you should do at your earliest opportunity. Currently, it's only available on DVD, so put it in your Netflix queue—or, hell, you can get the entire series for eight dollars on Amazon. And let's all write a quick email to our streaming content provider of choice and let them know that this is the type of well-made, wildly original show we want to be watching.
Why We Like It: creates an entire mythology in a few short episodes, focuses on human relationships amid the paranormal weirdness, Peter Krause's accessible charisma, feels both literary and fun