Lost co-creator says his new TV show The Leftovers probably won't have easy answers either

Co-creator Damon Lindelof forewarns that TV series on apocalypse may end like Lost

The Leftovers creator Tom Perrotta (left) with actors Liv Tyler, Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman and co-creator Damon Lindelof. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
The Leftovers creator Tom Perrotta (left) with actors Liv Tyler, Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman and co-creator Damon Lindelof. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Liv Tyler (above) plays a woman targeted by the Guilty Remnant religious cult in The Leftovers. -- PHOTO: HBO ASIA

Lost, a story about plane-crash survivors stranded on a spooky island, was nothing short of a television phenomenon.

But after six seasons of teeing up countless mysteries and stoking rampant speculation about the meaning of it all, the 2010 finale failed to resolve these questions to many viewers' satisfaction. Cue a massive backlash, with the series' co-creator Damon Lindelof bearing the brunt of it and being hacked to bits by critics and fans, some of whom accused him of "wasting six years of their lives".

But, like a sucker for punishment, it looks like he is prepared to do it all over again with a new TV show, The Leftovers.

The story, based on the novel of the same name by acclaimed author Tom Perrotta (Little Children), is a haunting look at a world struggling to deal with the sudden, unexplained disappearance of 2 per cent of its population. Three years later, society is still trying to understand the "Sudden Departure", which spawns endless religious and philosophical debate as well as the formation of several cults.

The series, starring Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman and Liv Tyler, is airing in Singapore on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) on Sunday at 9pm.

With its supernatural and sciencefiction themes, there is already talk of whether Lindelof is going to leave viewers hanging like he did with Lost.

"Despite the fact that I seem to have been branded as someone who's beating myself up about the ending of Lost, the reality is I'm very, very happy with the way it ended," says Lindelof, 41.

Of course, this somewhat contradicts a recent New York Times piece in which his wife Heidi Fugeman reveals the backlash was "unbearable" and led to him deleting his Twitter account and "flogging himself constantly".

Speaking to reporters in New York in this recent interview, he struck a good-humoured but slightly defiant note when Life! asked if what happened with Lost still haunts him.

"I'm very happy with the fact that I got to be part of Lost for six years, and that we ended the show on our own terms, as opposed to having it be cancelled or someone else coming in and ending it on his terms."

But what he is less pleased about is how no one will let him forget it. He says: "The frustrating part for me has been that I now get defined by this question of, 'How does it feel that so many people didn't like the ending of Lost?'

"And it feels obnoxious for me to say, well, it doesn't matter to me, because of course it matters. I'm making these stories for other people, I'm not just sitting in a room writing stories for myself.

"But at the same time, I can't allow it to define me."

Although the Lost finale continues to be brought up periodically as a reference point for other television shows including Breaking Bad, when the popular series ended its five-year run last year, Lindelof swears that he would not trade his experience for the praise heaped on the finale of that series, about a school-teacherturned-druglord.

"If the response to the Lost finale had been the same as that, then I would be exactly the same person I am now, in terms of having made The Leftovers and thinking, 'I don't know if this is any good, and I don't know if anybody's going to like it.' (Breaking Bad creator) Vince Gilligan is certainly saying those things, even though his finale was sort of universally loved."

His goal, he says, is to make something that gets people talking, though he freely admits he has no clue if The Leftovers will become "one of these zeitgeisty shows that people talk about", like Lost was, or "a very interesting but noble failure".

"A lot of the storytelling that interests me tends to divide people. And if you can get millions and millions of people to watch something, the more potentially divisive it's going to be - if you're doing your job right."

By that measure, the Lost finale may have been more effective than the Breaking Bad one, he argues.

"Five years from now, I'm not entirely sure people will be talking about the Breaking Bad finale - they'll be talking about Breaking Bad as an excellent television show, but they'll still be s****ing all over the Lost finale," he says, laughing.

"Which I embrace. It's sort of like, at least we tried to do something."

Yet few would question his credentials. He is one of Hollywood's foremost fanboys - a successful writer-producer with a proven track record on the big screen too, co-writing the sci-fi blockbusters Cowboys & Aliens (2011), Prometheus (2012) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013).

He is a talented script-doctor as well, parachuted into projects to fix such films as World War Z (2013), which was on track to bomb before he helped turn the storyline around.

With The Leftovers, he and co-creator Perrotta, 52, are trying to put a different spin on the popular apocalypse theme.

Brushing aside comparisons to sci-fi series such as Under The Dome and The Walking Dead, Perrotta - whose novels Election and Little Children were also adapted for the big screen in 1999 and 2006, respectively - says: "What we're trying to do that's new is to show an apocalypse that's purely internal.

"If zombies are roaming around or a nuclear explosion has occurred, we know we're in an apocalyptic landscape. But here the world looks pristine and the infrastructure still works. And yet people have been shaken to their core internally."

This psychological apocalypse manifests itself in increased lawlessness and the proliferation of cults and conspiracy theorists, which the show explores through the eyes of police chief Kevin Garvey, played by Theroux, and his family, which has been torn apart since wife Laurie (Brenneman) joined a cult known as the Guilty Remnant.

Perrotta's book was inspired by similar aftermath following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, while the disappearance itself borrows from the idea of the "Rapture", which some Christian groups believe will see believers spirited away on Judgment Day.

Crucially, the author is more interested in the psychological fallout from such a mass-scale trauma than explaining why or how these people vanished. In this respect, he is on the same page as Lindelof, who says he would rather enjoy the magic of a mystery than solve it completely.

Tyler, who plays a woman targeted by the Guilty Remnant, illustrates this with an anecdote about writing to Lindelof with a question about the plot.

"He said that he wasn't going to tell me the answer," she says in a separate interview. "I'm not sure if he knew or didn't, but he said, 'In life, we don't always know what's going to happen, so why do you want to know?'"

Both Lindelof and Perrotta insist that they really do not have all the answers; Perrotta's book does not explain the Sudden Departure, and although the 10 episodes of this season take the story further than his text, many things will still be left open-ended.

Lindelof knows that many viewers will have an issue with this and demand answers even if he told them none were coming. "We can say, 'Guys, we're never going to tell you where everybody went, and why it was them. And you'd go, 'We don't believe you, we're going to keep watching the show hoping that you were lying.'"

But he clarifies that he is not, in fact, saying that he will not provide answers, or indeed ruling anything out.

"Hopefully the show speaks for itself in terms of how interested it is in dealing with that mystery versus the emotional reality the characters are in.

"We want the audience to have the same experience as the characters - and the characters don't know if they're going to get that answer or not."


The Leftovers is airing on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) on Sunday at 9pm. The series is also available free on HBO On Demand (StarHub TV Channel 602) from Monday.

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