*Spoiler alert: this article contains several key plot points from The Leftovers and Lost.
One of the creative minds behind hit TV series Lost, Damon Lindelof, has demonstrated a consistent ability to write addicting and character heavy shows with his work alongside Tom Perrotta on The Leftovers. Two sesaons in, this HBO series shows promise to rank up there with Lost as one of the strongest series in the last decade.
What made Lost so great — about plane crash survivors who inhabit a mysterious island with supernatural powers and their struggle for survival — was its strong focus on so many characters individually and patiently, often devoting an entire episode to a given character’s struggle, and a plot so abstract and so absurd that it tricks its audience into thinking that all that crap with the hatch, the ghosts and black smoke mattered, when in reality, they were just metaphorical tools that brought us closer to some of the strongest, most complex characters in TV history, characters who spent Lost’s six seasons trying to figure out who they really were and what the Island wanted from them.
The Leftovers — about the survivors of a sudden and mysterious disappearance of a certain percentage of the world's population and their struggle for purpose and moving on from losing their loved ones — uses a similar formula, with similar apocalyptic, supernatural and religious themes.
So, here are 18 (of the many) similarities between The Leftovers and Lost:
1. An overreaching mysterious presence that overcomes the show.
Lost: The crazy stuff that happens during flashbacks, everything about the island and all the weird stuff that happens on it, all of the island inhabitors the survivors meet while on it, etc.
The Leftovers: The reason for the rapture, the supernatural occurrences that happen to main characters, the motives behind the Guilty Remnant, etc.
2. A terrible event at the core of the show that you learn from episode one, with severe consequences that affect every character uniquely.
Lost: The plane crash.
The Leftovers: The departure.
3. The structure and use of time.
Lost: flashbacks, flash-forwads, flash-sideways, and sometimes, several episodes all from different characters' perspectives of the same event (example: Jack first walking into the hatch while Kate is actually in the vent yelling for him).
The Leftovers: pre-rapture flashbacks, different dimensions (example: Kevin’s hotel purgatory) flashbacks and different perspectives for key moments during the show (example: Evie’s disappearance)
4. A psychic with scary news.
Lost: The palm reader first refuses to continue to read Claire’s palm and then tells her the second time around that it is crucial that she raises her child herself (whom she is pregnant with) and her goodness must influence her baby’s development.
The Leftovers: Isaac the fortune teller, after first showing reluctance to continue, tells John Murphy that something bad will happen to him.
5. An addict lead who is a total mess and gets himself in terrible situations that forces those who love him to go out of their way to fix the mess he’s in.
The Leftovers: Tommy
6. An absurdly masculine, white male lead with a dad who speaks to him outside of reality (daddy issues). With that, this male lead, in at least one instance, is convinced he is going crazy. They both also cry, a lot.
The Leftovers: Kevin
7. Man of science vs. man of faith.
Lost: Jack vs. John Locke
The Leftovers: John Murphy vs. Matt Jamison
8. With that, both shows have very religious characters.
Lost: Mr. Eko is perhaps the strongest of many examples.
The Leftovers: Matt Jamison, Murphy family, Holy Wayne (guy who thinks, or pretends, he’s God).
9. A physical place with supernatural powers.
Lost: On the Island, people reincarnate, dead people talk to survivors at significant moments, people have life-changing realizations, time does not exist in a normal reality and the Man in Black is always watching.
The Leftovers: In Miracle, Texas, the departure didn't happen, people apparently reincarnate and vegetive wives wake up.
10. Scientists who are trying to figure out the reasoning for supernatural events.
Lost: The Dharma Initiative.
The Leftovers: The mathematicians and scientists researching the reasoning for the rapture (For example: the focus on Norah’s connection with possibly being a “lense”).
11. Mysterious, creepy, cultish bad guys. These people live among the good guys (survivors or leftovers) and every once in a while do mean, messed up crap to them for attention.
Lost: The Others
The Leftovers: The Guilty Remnant
11. A VERY similar scene transition sound effect.
The Leftovers: Couldn't be found.
12. A complicated relationship with the sociopathic, scary clever bad guy (who ends up not being so bad after all).
The Leftovers: Patti
13. Pregnant women with important babies.
Lost: Claire’s baby is a hot commodity on the island (see item 4).
The Leftovers: Mary Jamison’s baby represents religious hope for Matt and proof of Miracle, Texas’ power.
14. Magical water.
Lost: The heart of the island
The Leftovers: During Kevin's hotel purgatory adventures as an international assassin, a well allows him to erase his Patti hallucination. Also, the river in Miracle coincidentally cracks open during the earthquake, saving Kevin’s life.
15. Symbolic animals in places they shouldn't be and doing bizarre things.
Lost: Boars and polar bears.
The Leftovers: Deer attack schools and dogs freak out all the time.
Also, Kevin and Jack are both comforted by a dog when close to death.
16. Medical miracles.
Lost: John Locke regains movement in his legs when the plane crashes on the island, giving him hope that this island is special.
The Leftovers: Mary Jamison wakes up from her vegetative state at Miracle, Texas, giving Matt Jameson hope that this town is special.
17. Magical earthquakes.
Lost: Earthquakes accompany time travel.
The Leftovers: crazy stuff happens during earthquakes, like Evie’s disappearance and Kevin’s miraculously failed suicide.
18. A character who loses his kid to the bad guys.
Lost: Michael loses Walt to The Others.
The Leftovers: John Murphy’s daughter joins the Guilty Remnant after being thought missing for weeks.
As you can see, there’s a lot of similarities between these shows. Other thematic connections include Godlike characters, unanswerable questions, connections with Australia, implications about heaven, hell, purgatory, reincarnation and talking to the dead.
But these shows are still very creative in their own ways. Damon Lindelof seems to have mastered the perfect balance of leaving out enough information to keep his audience interested, and as his viewers fulfill their natural human tendency to ask for answers, he sneakily has them fall in love with his patiently developed characters.