I first encountered The Leftovers while watching other HBO shows, both live and on demand. The network added spoiler-riffic promos for its second season at the beginning of every show for months. Despite my admittedly irrational irritation with knowing more about how Season 1 must have ended than I would like (which is anywhere north of zero), I was still intrigued, and I watched the whole show from the beginning.
I was able to binge season 1 and most of season 2. Season 1 was certainly fascinating if a bit uneven. Still, I was hooked on the acting, the characters, the science fiction scenario, and (after reading the book and finding Season 1 to be very faithful to it) I was excited for what Damon Lindelof would do with it going forward. I was a fan of ABC’s LOST and, though I found its final season conceptually disappointing, I still regard LOST as one of the best network TV shows ever.
Flash forward nearly a decade to The Leftovers. Season 1 was very faithful to the book, which was both good and bad. The story was definitely better as a TV show than as a novel. The fact that Season 1 ended where the novel did, however, created the possibility that the show would become a collaboration between Perrota, Lindelof, Mimi Leder (whom Lindelof cited as key to the show), and other writers and directors, designed specifically for TV. Seasons 2 and 3 were absolutely brilliant and I applaud the show’s creators for finding imaginative ways to work together to transcend the source material. I can only imagine the process of coming up with what to keep and what to get rid of—and how do you get to the point where someone says, “what if we moved it to a small town in Texas and leave most of the rest of the characters behind?”
This show was a huge opportunity for Lindelof to do what he does, with the latitude afforded by being on HBO, and wrap it up in a more satisfying fashion. (“We have to go back” indeed.) As far as I can tell, The Leftovers was free of the baggage that LOST carried as a pop culture phenomenon with superlatives and high pressure expectations attached. That and the fact that this really was a whole new thing (despite the obvious echoes of LOST’s themes and mysteries and manner of storytelling) I think freed them up to make something great.
[Perhaps redundant spoiler alert.] Like LOST, The Leftovers suggests to me an obvious spinoff from an obscure plot point. It would feature J-Lo and Shaq, and it would co-star Gary Busey and Bronson Pinchot. These celebrities, who disappeared in the original show, would of course play themselves in an otherwise fictional and sparsely populated world. This would in no way rival, however, what ABC should have spun off from the “Jack’s death” half of LOST’s sixth season. Sawyer and Miles, as played by Josh Holloway and Ken Leung, were a hilarious unlikely duo reimagined as detectives. This buddy cop show would have been top notch.
[This is the third installment in my ongoing series “Previously Unfinished Thoughts: long-abandoned draft blog posts edited and posted years later.” I wrote it in June 2017 and finished it in January 2021.]