There are TV shows that give you all the information you need to follow along, actively trying to prevent their audiences from feeling confused, and then there’s Lost.
Created by J.J. Abrams, who loves a mystery more than any showrunner in recent memory, Lost had such a reputation for confounding its viewers that some elements of the show are still being debated to this day — despite Lost leaving the airwaves back in 2010.
But if you like your television served with a side of bewilderment, there are plenty of other shows like Lost that aren’t too eager to let their audiences in on all their secrets. Any of the following might be a great choice for your next mystery box binge-watch.
Like Lost, Yellowjackets revolves around the victims of a devastating plane crash. Like Lost, it flashes back and forth through time, slowly revealing more information about its characters as it goes along. And like Lost, it has (so far, anyway) had subsequent seasons that failed to live up to the hype of its freshman outing.
Centering on a group of high school soccer players who have their plane crash in the Canadian wilderness, Yellowjackets explores what the group resorts to ensure their survival, and how quickly the veneer of civilization fades away. It switches between showing the aftermath of the crash and fast-forwarding a few decades to focus on the survivors as adults, forced to carry the burden of their actions in their most dire moments.
Watch now on Paramount Plus
Some Christians believe in the Rapture, in which the souls of the saved will ascend to heaven while all the unworthy heathens are left behind to roam an apocalyptic landscape. That’s the central premise behind The Leftovers, which explores the aftermath of such an event, in which over 100 million people just vanish into thin air, and society attempts to adjust to such a bewildering loss.
Everyone reacts to the crisis differently, and three years later, what is referred to as “The Great Disappearance” has led some to embrace a new sense of faith and others, nihilism. With an incredible ensemble cast that includes Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, and Christopher Eccleston, The Leftovers is one of HBO’s most underrated gems.
Watch now on Max
There’s something about the setting of a plane that seems especially fitting for mysterious occurrences television. Manifest tells the story of a plane full of passengers who got on a flight back to the United States from the Caribbean, only to realize to their amazement that when they land, it’s five years in the future.
Families (like the Stones, in which a mother and son returned home on a different flight than the father and daughter) struggle to reconcile the weight of these missing years on their relationships, all while investigators attempt to figure out how such a thing was possible in the first place. With four seasons in total, Manifest followed in the footsteps of Lost in that it was never satisfied to rely on its initial mystery, instead introducing half a dozen others along the way.
Watch now on Netflix
Speaking of people missing for a whole bunch of years and then suddenly returning, the recent reboot of 4400 is another sci-fi show that tackles what happens when a segment of the population disappears under mysterious circumstances, and how they are able to be reintegrated into society. But in 4400, the individuals are abducted over the course of several decades, seemingly by aliens, and then returned all at once.
Some have been missing for more than 50 years, and have no way of assimilating back into their former lives, while others have been gone for only a few years, and have to deal with the fact that their loved ones have moved on — it’s hard to tell which of these scenarios is more difficult.
Rent/buy now on Amazon
What would you do if all of a sudden, you were given a glimpse into your life six months in the future? How would you come to terms with what you saw, and would you be tempted to try to change things? That’s the basic premise of Flashforward, a high-concept ABC series based on a novel of the same name by Robert J. Sawyer.
Despite its fascinating central narrative device and its powerhouse cast including Joseph Fiennes, John Cho, Courtney B. Vance, amongst many others, Flashforward was ultimately canceled after just one season. However, in the time since it has been off the air, it has grown in estimation among many viewers, who consider it to have been a show with enormous potential that was axed before it had an opportunity to win over audiences.
Rent/buy now on Amazon Prime
Blending science fiction and fantasy elements, Fringe is a quirky procedural drama that revolves around the exploits of an unusual branch of the FBI: The Fringe Division. This ragtag team of scientists and traditional FBI agents investigates cases that fall outside the normal scope of government operations. Sometimes they’re looking into potential parallel universes, sometimes they’re checking out possible doomsday events. But whatever is happening, they’re always eager to keep audiences on their toes.
It should come as no surprise that Fringe and Lost share a showrunner: Both were created in part by none other than J.J. Abrams himself. Fringe ran on Fox for five seasons, and if nothing else, gave Joshua Jackson the opportunity to do some of his most interesting work.
Watch now on Max
In the French countryside, a group of high school students on a field trip suddenly disappear. Their families mourn their losses and attempt to move on with their lives as best they can. So it comes as a considerable shock when, a handful of years later, the students return, with no memory of where they’ve been.
The plot thickens when strange occurrences begin to happen in their small town, sparking confusion and mistrust over the newly reintegrated members of their town. The Returned (known as Les Revenants in France) made such a splash that it was quickly adapted for U.S. television, although the American series only lasted for one year before being canceled.
Watch now on Tubi