Tom Perrotta can’t stop laughing.
The author of “The Leftovers” novel and co-creator of the series is listening to his partner in mischief, Damon Lindelof, explain why and how Gary Busey became the biggest part (literally) of the series’ Season 3 premiere. He knows the story. He was there when it happened. But hey, it’s still really, really funny.
Which, for the record, isn’t a compliment paid to “The Leftovers” often enough, especially since the jokes have been there from the start — just like Gary Busey.
Way back in the series premiere (which was oft referenced in the Season 3 debut), Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), was sitting in a bar, drinking a few too many beers, and listening to pundits on TV debate why certain people departed and the others were left behind. As images of celebrities flashed across the screen, the bartender said, “The pope. I get the pope. But Gary Fucking Busey? How does he make the cut?”
Well, it was Lindelof’s idea. Other celebrities — like Jennifer Lopez and Anthony Bourdain — were in Perrotta’s novel, but Busey was a random addition from the showrunner. But ever since the premiere, Busey’s name didn’t come up.
…until Sunday night. Not only did Busey find his way back into the conversation, but there was a giant balloon idol made of him with “Busey bros” worshipping his impending return on October 14, 2018.
But where, oh where, did the idea come from?
“It came from the mad genius of Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta,” Episode 1 director Mimi Leder said in an interview with IndieWire. “I’m not sure which one.”
“I think the idea was that we saw Miracle go through that riot at the end of Season 2, and it had become kind of a carnival-esque space, a little less dark than before,” Perrotta said.
“Yeah, and the idea that there’d be people trolling the end of the world as a joke had to be represented, in addition to everybody who was dropping down onto their knees,” Lindelof said.
As for the balloon itself, that idea came from an unexpected source: Billy Eichner.
“There was a Billy Eichner bit for ‘Billy on the Street’ where he and Katie Couric did the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but all the balloons were random celebrities like Mila Kunis instead of Garfield the Cat,” Lindelof said. “And I was like, ‘I think those are real balloons!’ And they were huge! So if Billy Eichner can afford a Mila Kunis balloon, and it’s not a visual effect, we gotta get Busey.”
“It was more cost-effective than I thought,” Lindelof said.
“We had a lot of pictures of Gary Busey, and I think we took the jacket from one picture and the face from another,” Leder said. “It was interesting for me, in that, ‘How will I reveal this?’ And it’s interesting how we did, because I had big shots, but we revealed it in a shot where Justin’s on a horse coming into town.”
But Busey wasn’t even their the first choice.
“Originally, we wanted to do an Anthony Bourdain balloon because of the idea that celebrity chefs had disappeared en masse,” Lindelof said. “We got Bourdain’s photo in the pilot, but [when he was approached about Season 3] Bourdain was like, ‘No! No Bourdain balloon!'”
“So we went to Busey, and Busey was like, ‘Sure, bring it on! G.A.B.: Gimmie a balloon!'” Lindelof said, channeling a pretty solid Busey impersonation in the process.
And though Leder said they used multiple Busey photos to design the balloon, perhaps you’ll agree with the director in thinking the blow-up doll still slightly resembled someone else.
“He looks a little like Trump, though, doesn’t he?”
Judge for yourself. “The Leftovers” returns — with more Gary Busey — Sunday, April 23 at 9 p.m. on HBO. And below, find a running list of all the other Season 1 callbacks we saw in the premiere:
- Gary Busey (see above)
- Bombing the GR was first brought up in Season 1. Kevin didn’t want to give up jurisdiction over Gladys’ murder investigation, and he kept hounding his ATFEC (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives and Cults) contact, Sean Kilaney, until he finally heard back. After telling him the bureau had to handle the case, Kilaney offered to “eliminate the infestation,” ominously promising that their agents would make the GR “go away.” Kevin turned down the offer at the time, but it looks like someone else took the bureau up on their offer and eliminated Meg, Evie, and the rest of the GR’s Miracle insurgency.
- While we don’t know who was handing out flyers (or did the skywriting), Kevin’s assumption that Matt was behind it referenced how we first met the good reverend: distributing flyers at Heroes’ Day. He’s not back to his old tricks, but it seems like someone is — any guesses?
- Dean’s return! Kevin’s “old hunting buddy” made his first appearance since Season 1, and — while he’d gone so far off the deep end it cost him his life — the canine DNA discussion made for a fine comedic partner to the doom and gloom of the duo’s original outing.
- Meanwhile, Tommy shooting Dean (Kevin’s “old hunting buddy”) brought back memories of when he killed an FBI agent while trying to defend Christine (Annie Q.) during the raid of Holy Wayne’s compound. He’s got a habit of stepping in at just the right time.
- “You were in the GR. I was…coping.” Kevin and Laurie’s walk down memory lane — along with Kevin and Nora’s later in the episode — was a nostalgic moment fitting for the beginning of the end.