Lost was a big hit last season, starting strong with an impressive premiere and building on its early success to hook viewers in spite of — or perhaps because of — the fact that no one was able to understand what the hell was going on or what that damned polar bear is supposed to be about anyway, like was it a figment of Walt’s imagination or what? At any rate, Lost’s popularity has inspired the networks to copy its formula in a bald attempt to turn a hit into a trend, and so we have three new shows that feature single-word titles, large ensemble casts, and vague-yet-spooky goings-on.

The Formula:
Threshold = Lost + The X-Files + Night of the Living Dead

It’s actually kind of weird how similar these programs are to each other. Water figures heavily in all three shows: on NBC’s Surface and CBS’s Threshold, the mysteries begin out at sea, while on ABC’s Invasion, things are kicked off by a hurricane. Relationship trouble also abounds, with divorced parents and their high-maintenance children leading Invasion and Surface, while the Unsinkable Carla Gugino heads up the Threshold cast as a lonely traveling disaster-planning consultant.

The Formula:
Surface = Lost + The X-Files + The Creature From the Black Lagoon

It’s too early to say for sure, but it doesn’t feel like any of these shows have captured the unconventional, genre-busting Lostyness of Lost. In hindsight, the major weakness of Lost’s pilot — the complete lack of insight into the characters — was a strength, allowing the producers to spend the rest of the season using the flashback structure to develop them into something more than the movie star, the professor and Mary Ann. The new shows, on the other hand, hew to a more conventional formula in their pilots, establishing the characters and the plot with lots of expository dialogue. It’s not that they do a bad job of it, it’s just that they lack the sheer novelty of their predecessor.

The Formula:
Invasion = Lost + The X-Files + Invasion of the Body Snatchers

The other thing missing in the new shows is Lost’s sense of place. Perhaps put off by the outrageous production costs of J.J. Abrams’s series, the makers of these shows have foregone the exotic, isolated locales in favor of spots closer to home. While this does up the fear factor somewhat by putting the threats at our doorstep, the new shows lack the claustrophobic feel that heightens the tension of every scene in Lost.

So in the end, the big question isn’t whether any of these shows are as good as or better than Lost, because they aren’t; the big question is more a matter of whether one of these shows is better than the others. They’ve all got decent plots, with plenty of opportunity for creepiness and twists, but Surface’s fish people look kind of cheesy, while Invasion’s pod people are all really annoying. Threshold has issues of its own, most notably a lack of subtlety that I hope is just an acute case of pilot jitters, because with Gugino, Brent Spiner and Charles S. Dutton in its cast (and scary William Mapother as a recurring guest), it’s got some good people to work with, and besides, zombies will trump fish people and pod people any day of the week.