It’s never a good sign when you’re promoting your new show by swearing it won’t end like your previous show. But that’s exactly what we’re hearing from Lost’s Damon Lindelof, who seems eager to convince everybody — most of all himself — that we won’t be setting ourselves up for disappointment if we tune into his upcoming HBO series The Leftovers. After all, his new show definitely shares some data points with his old one: it’s got a compelling central mystery, it will explore the interplay between faith and reason, and it will live or die both on how it explores that mystery and in how well it makes us care about the people in the midst of it. Lost did one of those things very well, and the other — depending on who you ask — not so much. So, in taking on The Leftovers, will Damon Lindelof be able to evolve from the lessons of Lost? He certainly hopes so.
Lindelof goes in depth about his experiences on Lost in a lengthy new profile in the New York Times. It’s as much about Lindelof’s past as his future. He’s talked before about how personally he took the widespread negative reaction to Lost’s finale — he even courted the criticisms, at least until the brilliant finale of Breaking Bad reignited the firestorm once again, finally driving Lindelof to shut down his Twitter account. He tolds the NYT:
More than anything else, me taking this show says: ‘Yeah, I’ve made my persona into the guy who is clearly emotionally affected by your dislike of Lost, but here we go again.’ I’m getting back on the roller coaster because I can’t help myself.
Based on the 2012 novel by Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers picks up three years after the “Sudden Departure,” when two percent of the world’s population simply vanishes. Was it the Biblical rapture? Maybe, but there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to who went and who stayed (three examples of those who disappeared: Condoleeza Rice, the pope, and Gary Busey). As with the mysteries of Lost, the show will have to balance that central question against the human drama of the people dealing with its consequences. And, while the book has its answers, the fact that The Leftovers will theoretically want to stretch over many seasons will put it in the same camp as CBS’ adaptation of Stephen King’s Under the Dome — it will have to find its own answers, which may or may not line up with those of the source material.
Those still bitter about Lost can take some comfort in knowing that Lindelof is already thinking about that long game. As he assembled the Leftovers writing staff, he set his new team to the task of extrapolating everything they could about the world of the show, and all the ways something as momentous as the Sudden Departure would reshape it. That puts him in a very different position than he was with Lost. He was brought in as co-creator by J.J. Abrams, and never expected to suddenly find himself, at 30 years old, tasked with running a surprise hit series on his own. But that’s exactly what happened when Abrams left to direct Mission: Impossible III, spurring Lindelof to recruit Carlton Cuse, who he’d worked with on Nash Bridges, to help steer the show.
But even with the help, the odds were against the show making it past a season, given the out-there nature of the subject matter. “I wanted the Firefly trajectory,” recalls Lindelof. “Like, we’re going to be kind of pushing up against cancellation, and we’re going to make 13 of these things, and then it will be like this cool cult success.” Instead he got six seasons, and for at least half of that he and Cuse had no idea how long a story they were supposed to be telling. “For the first 55 episodes of Lost, we didn’t know how long the marathon was,” Lindelof says. “‘Am I running a 100-meter dash, or am I running a marathon? How many laps is this thing?’ Because that’s really going to change the way that I run.”
Still, for all the similarities, The Leftovers is clearly not Lost 2.0. “The Leftovers is not constructed as a cliffhangery show,” says Lindelof. “But at the same time, it is built so that when one episode ends, you want to keep watching the show … [We are] finding the spirit of: Well, what will make someone excited to watch The Leftovers this Sunday night?
Whether it succeeds or not, The Leftovers has already involved a nice little twist that is very, very Lindelof. We mentioned about how he deleted his Twitter account? He did that on October 14, the date of the Sudden Departure within the mythology of The Leftovers. His final tweet? “After much thought and deliberation, I’ve decided t” — and it cuts off mid-sentence. Let’s hope he finds a worthy way to finish that thought.
The Leftovers will premiere Sunday, June 29 on HBO.