Damon Lindelof: If You Were Frustrated By Lost, Don't Watch The Leftovers
"All I have to say is, if ever there was a case of buyer beware... If you were frustrated the last time, don't watch 'The Leftovers.' That would certainly be my prescription."
This is the offending quotation from Damon Lindelof's interview with Hitfix's Alan Sepinwall, but it may be somewhat misleading. This statement implies that The Leftovers will be a hot mess of a sci-fi show that stubbornly refuses to solve its mystery, very much like Lost. But early reviews indicate that Lindelof's new show is not a mystery at all.
The pilot, which airs on Sunday night, has received flat-out raves from Hitfix ("a tour de force of devastation and grief"), AV Club ("bleak, brutal, brilliant television," some alliterative praise), and Time ("hurts so good"). These reviews, and others, tell us that the show is relatively unconcerned with the cause of the central Rapture-like event, but is rather a very human drama that focuses on the psychological emptiness that follows a widespread trauma. Indeed, it's been described as "designed to not offer any answers to a cosmic mystery," as opposed to being designed to give answers but deciding not to.
In the context of these reviews, as well as the rest of the interview, it doesn't seem that Lindelof is actively planning to make the same mistakes all over again. Lindelof himself stated: "It felt to me about 50 pages in[to Perrotta's novel of the same name], 'Oh, he's not interested at all in answering what the Departure was. This is just all about the condition of living in a post-Departure world.' ... That, to me, was very fascinating - to be unapologetic about saying, 'This book is about characters living in an ambiguous space where the mystery is not going to be resolved.'"
Here are a few more highlights from a fascinating interview with both Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, who wrote the novel on which the HBO show is based.
Lindelof on his initial reaction to Perrotta's novel:
"I just started... crying, multiple times... I can't really explain to you why."
On The Leftovers as a genre bender:
Damon Lindelof: "Many of the characters on the show, even if they didn't lose someone in their inner circle, they would have to start perceiving the world in a way where you start looking for signs. People need to be searching metaphysically. If there's not direct genre in the show, there needs to be the specter of genre, or the characters need to be grafting genre onto the show. The idea is that you could watch 'The Leftovers' with the sound off, you'd think 'This is a non-genre show,' but if you watched it with the sound on, you would have to realize that it is... The idea is that if 2 percent of the population disappeared, then there always has to be a 2 percent chance that you're watching a genre show. There's a 2 percent chance that Kevin's father is actually communing with some other-worldly entity, and a 98 percent chance that he just lost his mind because he was chief of police at the time the Departure happened."
On drawing inspiration from the national response to Newtown:
Damon Lindelof: "When Pete[r Berg] became available, he really responded to the material, and when he began talking about both the book and the script he had read, he was really processing it through Newtown. It was maybe four or five months after Newtown, and he said, 'I'm really interested in how you move through life when an existential crisis that completely and totally destabilizes your sense of safety has happened. Like, how is the pizza parlor open the next day?' That's how he articulated it."
On the range of psychological reactions to a cultural trauma such as Newtown, 9/11, or the Rapture:
Tom Perrotta: "Some people want to move on, and some people want to stop and ponder what happened, and to say that a new world started that day, and here's what that new world is. And other people want to say, 'Our lives are this ongoing flow of events, and that was just one event in it, but that story I was in before it is still the story of my life.'"
On the death of the author:
Damon Lindelof: "I found it fascinating to go down the rabbit hole as a fan on "True Detective," and then for me to be disappointed by Nic [Pizzolatto] talking about 'True Detective.' I really didn't want him to say, while I was watching the show, 'You're getting way too into this Yellow King stuff.' It was sort of like, at a kid's birthday party, giving the kids cake and soda, and then yelling at them for going nuts in the bounce house."
On living in an age in which fans interact with writers much more frequently and with much more hostility:
Damon Lindelof: "As a writer, when people are picking up something you're not putting down, you feel the impulse to say, 'Guys, don't focus on that, focus on this! This is about Rust and Marty." Again, I would have done and have done exactly the same thing Nic did, because there's nothing else to do. But I also feel like this culture now of, 'Well, Nic, how do you respond to allegations of misogyny? Will there be more female characters?' And I don't want him to write the show for us. I want Nic to write the show for him... The more that we enter into these conversations about being afraid people will have some reaction, it's like, if we're going to write this show from a place of fear, I can guarantee you it's not going to be any good."
On The Leftovers as an existential work:
Tom Perrotta: "The fact is, tens of thousands of Americans believe that the Rapture is going to happen in their lifetime. Because I'm not especially religious, my first impulse is to think that's really odd, or even quaint. But then over time, I started to think, 'Well, what if it did happen?' That to me is the better writerly question: not to satirize the Rapture or people who believe in it, but just to imagine how would I respond to that? ... And then I tweaked it by making it random, rather than the Christian Rapture, so that it was as much of a challenge to Christians as it was to non-believers. And once I did that in my own mind, it started to seem like a really interesting existential allegory."
On The Leftovers as an nihilistic work:
Damon Lindelof: "I think the tonal conversation of 'Do we want it to be dark and bleak and sad?' never happened consciously. I think the tonal conversation was, 'We want the show to feel real, and give a real presentation of what it feels like to be in a world where this thing happened and how characters are dealing with it.' I'd always thought of the show feeling like 'Friday Night Lights' in terms of the way it was visually presented... When he started talking about what he wanted the (debauched teenage) party scene in the pilot to be in the pilot, 'nihilism' is one word that you can use to describe it, but I do feel like the idea of... bringing the actors to a place where tears could slide out of them at any given time, wasn't on the page. It just started happening."
Damon Lindelof: "I felt like there was an awareness on Pharrell's part on what the hat was that Bieber completely lacked, which made it much more engaging to become obsessed with Bieber's hat."