NEW YORK - The first scene in "Lost" is almost unbearably dreadful, not just for what you see but also what you fear you might see.
A bloodied young man awakens in a bamboo grove, then stumbles to the nearby oceanfront to confront a horror he shares with many: a jet crash, with pieces of the huge, doomed craft strewn across the island sand and passengers everywhere injured or crazed.
The man, Jack (Matthew Fox, "Party of Five"), happens to be a doctor who makes house calls. The camera follows as he makes his heroic rounds at wholesale triage.
Fortunately, in this scene and throughout the two-hour pilot (Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ABC, WJBF-TV, Channel 6), "Lost" never loses its way. Thanks to stylish handling by J.J. Abrams ("Alias"), it stops just short of the grotesque in even its most extreme moments (a throbbing, whirring storm of sound effects at the crash site is as disturbing as any of the visuals).
This is "Gilligan's Island," the nightmare edition, with more castaways (and squabbling) than on any two seasons of "Survivor." There's a pregnant woman, a rock star with a drug habit, a hotheaded troublemaker and many more. Jack, as the leader of this disparate, desperate band, will clearly have his hands full.
But soon enough, he finds a helpmate in Kate (Evangeline Lilly), who is self-possessed and lovely. No time yet for sparks to fly between her and Jack, but if the situation ever settles down for a moment, count on it.
Kate marvels (along with the viewer) at Jack's almost superhuman composure. When she asks if he ever gets afraid, he recalls a critical moment in the operating room when a life-or-death surgery went awry.
He resigned himself to "let the fear in, let it take over, let it do its thing," Jack explains. "But only for five seconds. That's all I was gonna give it."
That's about all the time he can give it around here.
There are medical and nutritional problems to deal with (the packs of party mix on the plane won't last long).
These survivors have to figure out where they are, and try to get a message to the outside world (turns out the plane's last transmission before splitting apart in midair pegged its location as hundreds of miles from where it crashed).
And, well, there's one more hitch. As if bidding for "Jurassic Park" fans, "Lost" throws into the mix monstrous predators. They are impossibly huge, noisy as all get-out and prone to pop up at the least provocation. So far we don't know exactly what they are, but the prospect of getting eaten by one of these bad boys only adds to the maddening urgency to get the heck out of here.
Will the radio recovered from the jetliner's cockpit, with its dying battery and crackly reception, prove to be the key? In any case, it figures in the premiere's cruel climax. And if you're not hooked on "Lost" before then, that twist could convince you: Here is a series worth getting lost with.