TV

‘The Leftovers’: Why The Show Won’t Be Anything Like The Book

Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta explain the big changes from page to screen on HBO's new show.

HBO’s new show “The Leftovers” may be based on Tom Perrotta’s critically acclaimed book, and even have Perrotta on board as a producer and co-writer; but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been changes.

As MTV News found out when we caught up with Perrotta and series co-creator Damon Lindelof on the show’s red carpet in New York, moving from novel to television necessitated a few changes, most notably the tone.

“TV is a dramatic medium,” Perrotta told us when asked about the changes from page to screen. “The book had a kind of meditative, contemplative tone that really worked in the kind of solitude of a reader interacting with words on a page, but a show demands more adrenaline, and we’ve delivered on that.”

The source of most of that adrenaline? Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), who is another of the big changes from the book. In the novel, Kevin is the mayor of Mapleton, a man who’s family has survived the non-rapture that made millions of people disappear worldwide all at once, but who’s family was wrecked nonetheless.

Even with a nuclear family unit that has more crumbled than drifted, Garvey is pretty much completely even in the book, possibly even numb. He reflects the satirical nature of Perrotta’s prose perfectly, embodying a man who, well, embodies a world that’s kept going even after suffering gigantic loss.

In the show, however, Theroux is a coil of rage as police chief Kevin Garvey, the diametric opposite of his character in the book. So why the big change?

“We tried an adaptation where Justin stayed the mayor, and we and HBO were all in agreement that the storytelling was about, this is a world that’s unstable,” Lindelof said. “People may be seeming to hold it together but they’re all cracking in different ways. What character is going to be more on the frontlines of that idea, a mayor, or a cop?”

Even with that logic on hand, though, Lindelof was initially resistive of changing Garvey, mainly because there are already so many cop shows on the air. Except, of course, cable channels like HBO, where the anti-hero reigns, a fact that made Lindelof eventually acquiesce.

“Maybe there’s something refreshing about going back to a good old fashioned police officer,” Lindelof continued. “So we embraced that idea, and I think it was the right choice.”

There is one change Lindelof won’t be making from the book, though, and it’s one that may make detractors of his last show, “Lost,” tear their hair out in fury. In the novel, there are no answers to the Sudden Departure, as it’s called. It’s not even really the focus of the book, so much as the people of Mapleton — and beyond — who have been affected by a world with suddenly very different rules.

When the novel ends (a point the show will surely pass by season’s end), we know nothing more about the Sudden Departure than when we started. And it was those lack of answers that drew Lindelof to the show.

“In a lot of ways, it was sort of a relief, to plug into something that was overt in saying this show is about living with this mystery, and a lack of an explanation,” Lindelof noted. “My feeling was, I embraced that, I found it fascinating.”

Angry fans who think this may be just a case of going back to the island? Stay tuned, says Lindelof.

“There are probably people out there who will say, that’s wildly frustrating, I don’t want to subscribe to that,” Lindelof continued. “If they’re willing to watch the show and give it a chance, they’ll start to get interested in an entirely different set of things.

“The only thing to be interested in when you hear the idea is, where did those people go? Why them? Are they coming back? The more I read of the book, the less I cared, and hopefully the same will go of the show.”

But we’ll find out who was in the outrigger, right?

“The Leftovers” premieres on HBO on Sunday, June 29 at 10 p.m. ET.

Writer/Editor at MTV News. You can follow him on Twitter, but not in real life because that would be weird.
@azalben