by Josie Kafka
Back in 2006, when this six-episode miniseries premiered, TV Guide’s Matt Roush declared that it an “especially silly descent into incoherence.” Oh, how the world of TV has changed since the fourth season of Lost! More than ten years later, The Lost Room seems like a charming artifact of a simpler TV world in which science fiction shows neither aspired to greatness nor achieved it.
That may sound like damning with faint praise, but the straightforward, earnest quality of The Lost Room is one of its greatest strengths, particularly as embodied by lead Peter Krause. Not to mention a strong supporting cast and a narrative that has just enough mystery to delight, but not enough to confuse.
When Detective Joe Miller stumbles upon a magical key that opens any door—and leads to a motel room that appears to be frozen in time—he’s appropriately nonplussed. When his daughter uses the key, enters the room, and disappears, he becomes a man on a mission to find his daughter.
That quest leads him to a variety of other magical objects and their bearers, as well as various factions associated with the objects. Some people hoard them, others will kill for them, and some want to destroy all the objects, since they tend to bring bad luck to those who possess them. Joe’s key is one of the most powerful objects, which makes him both the hunter and the hunted.
As Joe, Peter Krause brings a necessary deadpan incredulity to the proceedings, especially when interacting with characters who have been obsessed with the objects for many years. Standouts in the supporting cast include Kevin Pollak as a wealthy collector and Peter Jacobson as the owner of a bus ticket that whooshes people to an abandoned highway outside of Gallup, New Mexico. Juliana Margulies is tough-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside the love interest.
The appeal of the show extends beyond its quirky characters, though. There’s something enchanting about the premise: everyday objects possessed of magical powers, cults jockeying for power over the objects, and so on. I’ve seen this miniseries twice, and both times I wanted an object of my own, just for the pleasure of having a tiny, extraordinary thing. (Knowing my luck, I’d probably get the wristwatch that hardboils an egg.)
Going out on a limb, I’d say there are two types of cult genre shows: those that develop a following because of the mystery (Primer is a good example), and those that develop a following because of the mood. We all love Firefly for many reasons, but it has taken on a cozy quality for me over the years. The Lost Room isn’t Firefly, but it has that same effect: a friendly show, with just enough peril to keep you engaged.
• Joe’s daughter is played by Elle Fanning, who is more charming than any child actor has a right to be.
• For that quote from Matt Roush in the first paragraph, I had to rely on Metacritic, as Roush’s original review doesn’t appear to still exist on the internet.
• In fact, Metacritic’s links were a disaster here. Allegedly, Gillian Flynn in her pre-Gone Girl iteration reviewed The Lost Room for Entertainment Weekly, but that link didn’t work, either.
Three out of four objects.
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)