NEW YORK — Not long ago, 2 percent of the world's population vanished. Quietly, instantly, with no provocation.
This unfathomable loss continues to haunt all those left behind, including residents of the small New York town that serves as the setting for “The Leftovers,” HBO's eerie new drama premiering Sunday at 10 p.m.
The 10-episode series brushes over the seminal event, picking up the story as the third anniversary of the Sudden Departure nears. It finds the locals mired in grief, bewilderment and discord.
“They have to find a way to come together, but some people are going to be able to achieve that — and others aren't,” says Damon Lindelof.
“The Leftovers” was co-created by Lindelof (of ABC's “Lost”) and Tom Perrotta (who wrote the novel that inspired it). Earlier this week they joined a reporter to discuss their new project.
Perrotta: “It's a different kind of apocalyptic story, because the physical world remains intact. It deals with the psychological adjustment to trauma. It follows what people make of this mysterious, traumatic event, which doesn't fit into either a scientific or religious framework.”
Lindelof: “Some people just try to go back to the way things were before this thing happened. Other people say, 'This was a sign. I can't continue to operate the same way, now that this cosmic event has occurred.' The opportunity we had was to write a show with characters who, in wildly different ways, were trying to get on with their lives.”
Perrotta: “After all, how long can they discuss this thing that has no answers? No one has anything new to add to the conversation. In fact, the Guilty Remnants” — a nihilistic cult that wears spectral white, chain-smokes and never speaks — “has adopted a vow of silence in part because they feel there's nothing to say.”
Lindelof: “Everybody on the show is suffering some kind of post-traumatic stress. Even if they're pretending not to still be affected, there's now a part of them where, if the friend you were just talking to has stepped around the corner out of sight, you're programmed to go, 'Oh, my God, it's just happened again!'”
Don't come to “The Leftovers” expecting anyone to learn why. This stands as one of many differences between “The Leftovers” and “Lost,” Lindelof's thriller that kept viewers breathless for an explanation — which they finally got, sort of — of the fate of the passengers of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815.