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To Be Continuumed: Making Up for 'Lost' Time and Accounting for That Sense of Deja Vu

"Doctor Who," circa the 1970s (BBC-TV)
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Sunday, January 18, 2009

If you were confused by "Lost's" herky-jerky timeline during the past four seasons, prepare to set your grasp of the space-time continuum to stunned.

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After four seasons that contained flashbacks, flash-forwards and electromagnetic forces that sent some characters into a chronological tailspin, the crafty writers of the ABC drama about plane crash survivors on a mysterious island take things to a whole new level during the fifth season. In the season premiere, which airs Wednesday, the island itself moves in time. Repeatedly. Several characters become "unstuck" in time. And "Lost" proves that it stands -- to borrow a phrase from James Franco in "The Pineapple Express" -- at "the apex of the vortex" of TV time travel.

Exactly how has the show advanced this decidedly niche genre? Have a look at other series that dared to fire up their own flux capacitors and find out.

-- Jen Chaney and Liz Kelly

"QUANTUM LEAP" (1989-93)

The Original: As Dr. Sam Beckett, Scott Bakula jumped to various dates in the past, inhabited the bodies of numerous people and righted previous wrongs, all in an effort to find his way back to the present. But that was in 1989, when a hologram version of Dean Stockwell seemed like the ultimate in TV special effects.

The "Lost" Upgrade: "Lost," on the other hand, flashes back and forward, essentially putting the viewer in the role of time traveler, and tosses in some CGI polar bears and a smoke monster, just for fun.

"STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES" (1966-69)

The Original: In the very first "Trek" series, a pre-paunch William Shatner led the Starship Enterprise crew through various time portals, usually to prevent some catastrophe -- you know, little things like Nazi Germany taking over the world.

The "Lost" Upgrade: The writers take a more academic approach, adapting the philosophy that the past has already happened and even the most skilled time traveler cannot change it.

"DOCTOR WHO"

(1963-89, 2005 to present)

The Original: Over decades (and in various incarnations) "Doctor Who" has won the hearts of bookish nerds worldwide by sending its protagonist hurtling through time to battle papier-mache-looking monsters (or "Mr. Roboto"-esque cybermen) and save the universe.

The "Lost" Upgrade: The Oceanic 815 survivors are faced not only with the smoke monster, a traditional sci-fi-style entity, but also with the more ordinary-looking -- and more dangerous -- Charles Widmore, a manipulative corporate mogul whose desire to control the island may be diabolical.

"HEROES" (2006 to present)

The Original: Hiro Nakamura can teleport to any moment in the past, present or future. And he can pause time like a TiVo.

The "Lost" Upgrade: No offense to actor Masi Oka, but he doesn't look nearly as hot as "Lost's" Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) when he and his carefully unbuttoned shirt ping-pong along the space-time continuum to find their way back to lost-love Penny.

"THE SIMPSONS"

(1989 to the end of time)

The Original: Time travel is not a core component of TV's longest-running animated series, but in the "Treehouse of Horror" episode from Season 6, Homer accidentally turns the family toaster into a time machine. Hilarity ensues.

The "Lost" Upgrade: During last season's finale, the always-scheming Benjamin Linus turned what the writers refer to as a "frozen donkey wheel" and dislodged the island from standard time. To watch what happens next, you'll have to tune in to the season premiere. But we can say this much: Hilarity does not ensue.


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