Is Damon Lindelof the last truly imaginative storyteller in Hollywood?
When given the keys to one of the most recognisable comic-book properties in history, most TV showrunners would not pump their adaptation full of racial conflict, sinister theatricality and one enormous blue dildo. Damon Lindelof, it just happens. is not ‘most showrunners’.
The 46-year old caught my attention as a young teenager, the brains behind everything after the pilot of Lost, here was a guy writing a thrilling show that I loved, doing a weekly podcast about said show and seemingly more tapped into the culture and the discourse surrounding his own work than almost anyone else in the business. Lindelof very quickly became ‘my guy’. I wrote an essay about him in English class when I was 16. Five years later, I’m basically doing the same thing now. He remains one of the few creatives working in mainstream Hollywood who I trust and respect totally. There is nothing I would not watch with Lindelof’s name on it.
It’s not that he has a particularly perfect hit rate: only four years ago he and Brad Bird released the appalling, politically-dodgy Tomorrowland. He’s capable of screwing it up. Yet Lindelof, even at the worst of times, takes his influences from all the right places.
Unlike his contemporaries J.J. Abrams and David S Goyer he isn’t overly obsessed with the shadow of 1980s Amblin: Lindelof doesn’t want to make Spielberg movies, he wants to make David Lynch movies disguised as Spielberg movies. He constantly references Twin Peaks as one of his principle inspirations — the other being Alan Moore’s original Watchmen — and the surrealistic melodrama of that show is visible not only in Lost but in Lindelof’s magnum opus to date, three seasons of The Leftovers on HBO, a richly truthful emotional tapestry that questioned the purpose of spirituality and society while inspiring a decade’s worth of meme cycle with its giant inflatable Gary Busey, moving Simon & Garfunkel karaoke and bizarre utilisation of the Perfect Strangers theme song.
Lindelof is spectacularly skilled at crafting engaging, intimidatingly complex narratives, but his main talent is his ability to inject absurdism of the highest degree into nihilistic landscapes. And this brings us to Watchmen, easily the most exciting and adventurous comic-book adaptation since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movies, a formidable merging of American — particularly black — history with the concept of masked vigilantism. It’s funny and frightening and has a beautiful clarity to its realisation: I adore when a TV show inspires me to hit Wikipedia to read about historical events. Nobody except Lindelof, Sorkin and maybe Sam Esmail and Noah Hawley ever seem to do this. Lindelof continues to be the sharpest, smartest commentator on his own output: HBO launched an official Watchmen podcast which sees him analysing the show’s subtextual references with Craig Mazin of Chernobyl fame. It’s almost as enjoyable as the show itself.
Long may Lindelof be the author of his own Hollywood mythology. I wish there were more storytellers like him.