‘Leftovers’ producers won’t overstay visit

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Considering the bleak tone of the show, it’s encouraging that hope springs eternal among the producers of HBO’s “The Leftovers,” which returned to start its final season Sunday. But hope takes curious forms in “The Leftovers” universe.

“It almost feels as though the show has gotten distilled and every episode is dripping with this apocalypse,” says executive producer and co-creator Tom Perrotta.

“I feel confident,” said director and executive producer Mimi Leder about the writing on the last stretch of episodes.

Shifting in his seat at a restaurant, listening to his collaborators, co-creator Damon Lindelof jumps in, “This is all making me feel very uncomfortable.”

Uncomfortable?

“Yeah, that everything’s going to be OK.”

Lindelof speaks as a man burned by the system before: The controversial 2010 series finale of Lindelof’s “Lost” inspired so much fan vitriol that the show runner left Twitter for good.

He is understandably wary, then, about endings. The close of “The Leftovers” has a question at its core: When everything ends, can you find a way to be OK?

When “The Leftovers” debuted in 2014, the pilot depicted an unexplained global incident called the “Sudden Departure,” wherein 2 percent of the world’s population disappeared without a trace, and then immediately made a three-year time jump. From the outset, the series was never about what happened to those who disappeared but rather what will happen to those who didn’t.

Based on Perrotta’s novel of the same name, the events of Season 1 centered on the fictional town of Mapleton, N.Y., and the family and acquaintances of Kevin Garvey (depicted in the series to soulful, bewildered perfection by Justin Theroux) as they struggle to make sense of life post-departure. While Perrotta’s involvement in the show made perfect sense throughout the first chapter of HBO’s acclaimed drama, it was less clear how he would acclimate when the series evolved.

“I think a fundamental failure of most adaptations is they try to push the author aside,” Lindelof said. “I couldn’t think of a better recipe for failure.”

Yet, when you’re dealing with the emotional weight of topics that Lindelof calls “radioactive” — issues that range from the existence of God to the possibility of life beyond death to the existential instability of the apocalypse — there are many potential recipes for failure.

So, when HBO came calling for a third season, the producers agreed, but only if it were the show’s last.

“You don’t want to wear out your welcome. These characters can exist for how long?” asks Leder.

“‘Leftovers’ in the refrigerator. Three seasons, that’s all you got,” Lindelof quips. “Then they go bad.”