LOS ANGELES – In “The Leftovers,” debuting Sunday on HBO, 2 percent of the world’s population disappears on Oct. 14, a possible sign that the Rapture has taken place.
On that same date last year, co-creator Damon Lindelof made a departure of his own.
The man largely responsible for steering “Lost” abruptly abandoned his hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers and hasn’t returned since to social media.
“Right around the time we started the writers’ room up, I just felt like it was a good opportunity to dive in and focus on the show,” Lindelof said. “Twitter is so entertaining, but also massively distracting. As far as promotion goes, I’m a whore that way. Leaving on that date just felt appropriately pretentious.”
Lindelof has every reason to bet big on his latest effort.
The series has great potential, riding on the wave of the nation’s obsession with apocalyptic story lines. But unlike “The Walking Dead” and “Fallen Skies,” the citizens of a fictional New York suburb aren’t fighting starving corpses or aliens. Three years after the great vanishing act, the enemies are their own psyches and nagging questions: Why were they left behind? Will their loved ones ever come back? And why have all the town’s dogs turned into demons?
“The characters in the show are not actively searching for what happened in the departure,” Lindelof said. “They’re actively searching for what they’re supposed to do in their lives. Hopefully, that’s what the storytelling is going to echo.”
While “Lost” was populated by relatively unknown actors, Lindelof has doubled down on well-known names both in front of and behind the camera. The cast includes Justin Theroux as a chief of police who has lost his wife and may be losing his mind; Amy Brenneman as a chain-smoking cult member who refuses to speak, and Liv Tyler as a troubled woman who bolts from her impending nuptials.
Executive producers include Macalester grad Peter Berg (“Hancock,” “Battleship”), who directed the first two episodes, and acclaimed novelist Tom Perrotta, who wrote the book the series is based on. Perrotta has an impressive track record. Two of his previous books — “Election” and “Little Children” — were turned into Oscar-nominated screenplays.
Perrotta said he learned a lot by how Alexander Payne adapted “Election,” a piercingly funny comedy about the silliness of politics that put Reese Witherspoon on the map.
“I thought what I wanted was a faithful adaptation, but Alexander brought a unique tone to it and created a movie only he could have made,” he said. “I think what a writer really wants is someone really talented to adapt his work, not for somebody to bow down or step back and be afraid. Because my heart wasn’t broken that first time, I’m able to love again.”
Not that Perrotta and Lindelof expect everyone to fall in love with “The Leftovers.” The series opens with an endless number of head scratchers and fans who were disappointed by the enigmatic ending of “Lost” may be reluctant to climb aboard another Lindelof vehicle.
That’s just fine with him.
“One of the things that I love about Tom’s book and the premise of the show in general is that it’s not necessarily for everybody,” he said. “I’m sure that there will be people who say that they don’t like it, that it’s just way too depressing and intense and confusing, and then there will be people who are completely and totally captivated by it.”
The Twitter world will certainly be weighing in on Monday morning. Just don’t expect Lindelof to join the conversation.