#1: Lost - Season One

The Survivors of Oceanic 815
Call me a fanboy if you want, but before you do, if you've watched LOST try and erase all memories (good and bad) of seasons 2-6 and think back to when you were watching season one of LOST.  If you did that and can honestly tell me you were not captivated by that season of television as much as any season of any show, then you and I have reached an irreconcilable difference of opinion when it comes to TV.  In the first 40 or so minutes of the pilot, the show seems simply like an expanded cast television version of "Cast Away."  We are introduced to the survivors of Oceanic 815, composed of a group of people with little in common save one thing: a troubled past.  By the end of the two part pilot, we know that 815 didn't crash land on Gilligan's island.  The pilot of the plane is mauled by some unseen monster and a group of castaways discover a recording that has been playing for 16 years calling for help, saying "the others are dead, it killed them, it killed them all."  If that isn't a way to get an audience hooked from the get go, I'm not sure what is.

LOST's first season did an excellent job of balancing the mystery and supernatural nature of the island with the development of layered, fascinating characters.  LOST had one majorly effective weapon with regards to character development, the flashback.  Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse (the show's writers) did a great job of adding intrigue to the characters by connecting the action unfolding on the island to what was going on in the character's flashback (sans the pilot and finale, the flashbacks for each episode were dedicated to one particular character).  In "Walkabout" the mysterious John Locke leads a hunting party for boars on the Island, while Locke's flashback reveals how he was turned away from participating in a walkabout in the Australian outback due to him being in a wheelchair (he regains function of his legs when the plane crashes on the island).  I could easily give in-depth breakdowns of almost every episode and every character's backstory, because there really isn't a weak episode in the 25 hours of the first season.  Actually this is part of why LOST got bumped to #1, its one thing to have a 10-12 episode season without dragging, its another to have 25 straight solid episodes without any real dull moments.

The pacing of LOST, season one, was expertly done as well.  In the first eight episodes, the main issues the 815 survivors face are finding food, shelter, and water as well as settling their own differences (yes the monster is there too, but doesn't do too much else).  The next eight episodes introduce the presence of others on the island (first after Sayid is captured by the french woman who recorded the distress call) one of whom (actually the only "other" we meet in season one) has infiltrated the survivors and kidnaps the pregnant Claire Littleton.  In the final nine episodes, the survivors are still dealing with the presence of the "others" while a select group begins to put escape/rescue plans into action.  The scifi/mystery/supernatural element of LOST also gets significantly ramped up with episodes such as the somewhat creepy "Numbers" and the introduction of the now infamous hatch.  I don't think a coincidence at all that, if you do the math, the first season is thus broken down into three somewhat distinct chapters of storyline.

Has a series of numbers ever been so creepy?
It's amazing that I have gone three paragraphs already and barely mentioned any of the characters by name.  Jack is the ultimate flawed protagonist, forced in a leadership position (yay doctors) in part due to his almost pathological desire to fix people.  Kate immediately draws affection from the audience, only to have her true nature questioned due to the early revelation that she was a prisoner of a US marshall on the flight.  Sawyer, my personal favorite character, is shown to be more than just a smartass con man and has some of the best flashback episodes of the series ("Outlaws" is one of my favorite episodes and features a game of "I Never" way more intense than any I played in college).  Locke really steals the show in the second half of the season, never letting the audience get a grasp on whether he was meant to be a protagonist or antagonist.  Jin, Sun, Hurley, Charlie, Sayid, Boone, Michael, Walt, and even Shannon were also all great characters and I could easily write a paragraph about each character's development in season one.

More than any other season on this list, the first season of LOST is really the hardest to fully explain its greatness in words.  I can talk for thousands of words about the character development, plot twists, beautiful scenery, amazing soundtrack (done by the Michael Giacchino, who has moved on to compose for major movies), and even way in which the show became a pop culture phenomenon, but it wouldn't come close to the experience of watching season one of LOST.  Regardless of whether you loved or hated what the show became in following seasons, the first season of LOST was a masterpiece in every sense of the word.  If you haven't watched the show, go buy/rent/download it.  If you have, find a friend who hasn't and make them watch it with you.  Trust me, it will be worth every minute.