If you were one of the people who watched the first season of The Leftovers and wondered to yourself “What kind of person could something so f*cking depressing?” Well, Damon Lindelof has the answer: A f*cking depressed person.
File this one under “Yeah, no surprise.” While writing the first season of The Leftovers, Lindelof was “really depressed.” As he told HitFix,
I was really depressed while I was writing the first season of the show. And I don’t know if it’s the chicken or the egg scenario, which is, did the show make me depressed or was I depressed and made the show depressing? But I will say that what I locked in on and particularly when I started talking with (pilot director) Pete Berg the first time, he said, “I think about Sandy Hook and Newtown when I read this.” And I was like, “Oh, what?”
Even more than his own personal depression though, Lindelof took a lot of inspiration from the world around him. Much of which is, in reality, way more upsetting than the actual show itself. Apparently, Peter Berg, the director of the show’s pilot episode made strong connections to real life tragedies. As Lindelof put it, Berg said, “‘I think about Sandy Hook and Newtown when I read this.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, what?’” The two even visited Newtown for tonal research.
The entire town felt just really sad and tragic, and there were ribbons everywhere, and they had built this amazing lighthouse monument that was covered in messages. And then when we came, there were all these people standing around with their cell phones taking pictures of this stuff. And I felt really icky for being there — like I didn’t deserve to be there. I felt like a looky lou, but the tragedy really permeated. I have to check the timing, but I believe they had just voted to raze the school. Then they were going to build a new school on the same site. So they were engaging in this almost primitive religious behavior of, “We’re just going to destroy this structure and clear out that energy and then rebuild again.” And all those things just became embedded in the show at that point. And so the idea of sadness and grief and loss and a pervasive sense of PTSD and insanity started to kind of seep into my consciousness and feel really authentic. Just, “What does the emotional apocalypse feel like?” … If you try to describe The Leftovers to someone, it sounds ridiculous. But is there a way to emotionally ground it, so that if you watch The Leftovers with the sound down, you just think that you were watching a show with weird people walking around dressed in white. You’d have no sense whatsoever that the Sudden Departure happened, but you would have a sense of what that world felt like emotionally. And that became the ambition, right or wrong.
For fans and defenders of the show, this sense of inexplicable loss is a major drawing point for what it is about the show that’s so compelling. But this is also a dude who, in the same interview, called the fate of the average television show “like the infant mortality rate before the invention of antibiotics.” So, you know, take his metaphors with a grain of super depressing salt, I suppose.