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There’s something very fitting about this decade being bookended by shows Damon Lindelof was at the helm of. In January of 2010, television fans were abuzz about long-time ABC hit Lost coming to an end. As 2019 comes to a close, Watchmen, Lindelof’s third hit series to air in the past 10 years, is the focal point of conversation on Twitter and of many podcasts, just the same as Lost some years before.
In a decade where the medium of television has had its landscape changed more drastically than most expected, the storytelling of Damon Lindelof has been a constant—Lost pun intended. Not only has Damon’s work been consistently exceptional, but it also had an effect on us as viewers that many thought the modern age of television would kill: people are still gathering around to talk about it. Damon Lindelof’s work is still appointment television that has a modern “water cooler” effect. The way we consume television might have changed over the past decade and there’s damn sure a lot more content than ever before but isolationist viewing has not applied to Lost, The Leftovers or Watchmen, three of the finest shows to air over the past 10 years. For these reasons and more, its a no-brainer for me to consider this the “Decade of Damon Lindelof”, the most influential storyteller of the past 10 years.
In 2010, Netflix was still an infant and the “streaming wars” were a concept on nobody’s brain yet. Cable networks were ramping up their efforts to compete with the major networks, and the broadcast stalwarts were already feeling the heat from HBO. Television was changing. We were in “The Golden Age of Television”, with AMC’s Mad Men and Breaking Bad already critical darlings and fan favorites and HBO desperate to fill their Tony Soprano-sized hole, following the conclusion of their most popular series at that time. Lost was in many ways, the last of a dying breed. A high-concept series that was demanding of its viewers nowadays would be assumed to be on a cable or streaming network but was, in fact, on broadcast television. It might seem strange now but at the time it didn’t.
Lost was groundbreaking in the fact that it took the experience of the show beyond what you see each week on screen. The show had an official podcast, several “alternate reality games” designed to keep people’s attention in the off-season, a highly anticipated Comic-Con presence each year and a dedicated internet fan community. Between the message boards, websites and a new trend, fan-driven podcasts, of which Lost has nearly 100, Lost was a viral experience before we defined it that way.
Damon and his partner on the show, Carlton Cuse, were also without a doubt, the most well-known showrunners in Hollywood by fans because they chose to connect with the fan community in ways that had never been done before. Granted, most of this happened prior to this decade, but the culmination of it was how the decade began.
The ending of Lost will be discussed and debated forever. There are those that absolutely hate it. There are those that absolutely love it, myself included. Either way, it was a global discussion that is still happening almost 10 years later. That says a lot about the power of the show, that the debate over its ending would span a decade.
A few years would pass before Lindelof’s second series of the decade, The Leftovers, debuted on HBO. Damon’s departure from broadcast television for premium cable was not just a move he made, but many other creators and fans alike did as well. In many ways, The Leftovers was a less-restricted Lost. The themes were largely the same but able to be looked at in much different ways, due to the artistic freedom that being on premium cable provided. The mystery is why we came together but ultimately, the issues these characters faced, the pain they felt and the questions they asked of themselves were the story.
I don’t know this for a fact, but as someone who studies Lindelof’s work, I would venture to say that The Leftovers gave Damon a chance to exorcise some of Lost‘s remaining ghosts. The Leftovers was compact, a complete story in just 28 episodes, compared to over 120 hours of Lost. There was no network demanding more. The artist had much more say than ever before, a trend that was becoming the norm in this decade after artists like Damon fought tooth and nail for it in the prior decade.
While the final season of The Leftovers did face some criticism, as a whole, it was well-received by critics and fans alike. Like Lost, The Leftovers did deal with some not easily explained events but did move Damon away from the “fandom” arena so to speak.
However, his third series, Watchmen, would bring him fully back into the world of obsessive online fandoms, only this time with a largely built-in audience from the prior film and mainly, the graphic novel. As of this writing, Watchmen is still airing its first season but direct connections can be made to Damon’s previous television efforts, both in terms of writing and style. The most obvious connection to make, at least thematically, would be the flawed hero theme that has resonated throughout Lindelof’s work, although less obvious connections would include a trademark episode structure and casting people who have been removed from the mainstream for awhile but are absolutely perfect for their roles.
There’s been a lot of amazing television over the course of this decade that has challenged viewers and pushed cultural norms, and Damon Lindelof has been at the center of that. In a decade that will be remembered for both issues of race and women fighting for their right to be heard and their rights as a whole, Damon Lindelof has tackled these issues both on and off screen. While Hollywood was uncovering horrific story after story about the mistreatment of women, Damon Lindelof was empowering women by crafting strong characters such as Nora Durst and Angela Abar.
Off screen, both The Leftovers and Watchmen have seen female directors, writers and producers leading the charge, in numbers you simply don’t see elsewhere. Recently, incidents like the Tulsa massacre of 1921 have been depicted onscreen, leading to a shocking amount of people that had to Google one of this country’s most deadly incidents in history after seeing it in the pilot episode of Watchmen. Given the climate we live in today, it needed to be addressed and made for incredibly powerful television.
Over the past 10 years, we’ve reached a point where it is now impossible to keep up with all of the television series available to view, either through broadcast television, cable, premium cable and streaming services. More people than ever before are waiting to start a show, either by recording it to watch at their convenience or waiting to binge the season all at once. It’s caused a great reduction in the “water cooler effect,” where people can’t wait to discuss their favorite shows the next day. Damon’s shows seem to be immune to this, albeit on a smaller scale than in previous decades. Minutes after Watchmen ends each week, social media is full of conversation, memes and theories being traded, with multiple podcasts and articles dropping over the next several days. It’s an experience just the same as Lost, not impacted by today’s delayed viewing habits in the slightest.
Above all else, Damon’s shows this decade have just been really, really good. They’ve each stood out against all of this amazing competition that exists in the modern entertainment world. How difficult must it be to end one series and then launch two more in such a short amount of time, all which have the potential to remembered as all-time greats? Not too many writers/showrunners can say they’ve achieved the level of quality that Damon has in such a short span of time. It’s a testament to him as a storyteller and an achievement that should not go unaccredited. May the Decade of Damon be long remembered.