The Leftovers

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Features - Reviews

With an increasing trend in television series being the ‘new film’ format, it is quite difficult to decide what is worth watching and what is best avoided like the plague. If you are one of many currently suffering withdrawal symptoms from Game of Thrones or eagerly biting the arm of your sofa in anticipation of The Walking Dead series five, you might be interested in HBO’s latest book to screen adaptation ‘The Leftovers’ which premiered a pilot on June 29th.

Co-created by the writer of the book; Tom Perrotta and Damon Lindeloff (better known for creating sci fi show Lost), The Leftovers introduces us to a world in which two percent of the world’s population mysteriously disappeared in the blink of an eye with no explanation. (Doesn’t sound bad to me!)

The pilot of the Leftovers focuses primarily on several interconnected characters in a fictional town of Mapleton (New York), three years after the main mass disappearances. By this point the characters (and the rest of the world) have had time to react, reflect and interpret what it all means. Justin Theroux plays the chief of police Kevin Garvey and probably the most central character so far, as we see him interact with the rest of the town. He also seems to be the main mediator between various forces at odds with each other, including his own family, himself, and his relation to them.

Unlike other shows such as the Dome and the Walking dead which address the notions of the end times and the apocalypse and how it affects people , The Leftovers is much more meditative and ‘quiet’: With no external antagonist to fight such as a zombie, a dome or a killer virus, the characters are left to their own desperate ruminations. Big existential ideas on the meaning of life and if there is a reason to carry on living a ‘normal life’ become some of the main themes. The show also takes a religious slant with a chunk of population believing it is the Rapture, and those faithful true believers that have vanished have been taken so by God. Expect to see creepy ever silent characters dressed all in white who belong to a cult group; ‘The Guilty Remnants’ who believe that those left on earth are just that; guilty, and they serve to remind others of what they have lost and Gods almighty power... Oddly by chain-smoking! But do they have another sinister agenda? What is wrong with the local dog population? And who exactly is Holy Wayne and what sort of bliss is he offering his devoted followers?

The Leftovers has a lot of material to play with and is doing so with delicacy, focusing more on atmosphere and tone than exposition. The music to the show, by Max Richter, also helps set the melancholy mood which reverberates throughout as one of sadness and contemplation. This is not to suggest the show lacks any real plot. Apparently Lindeloff has made some changes from the book to give the show more direction with certain plot arcs. What these changes will be we will have to wait and see as the story unfolds.

The show has attracted a lot of praise but also a lot of hate for not delivering enough explanations on the situation, which is an ironic shame as the key idea of the show is how people react to a world with no control and the unknown. Perhaps the general viewing public are so used to having every plot point spoon fed to them Avengers style and not so comfortable with giving a show the same attention you would give a book. But it is still early days and there is a lot the show could do well or fail miserably at. As with ‘Lost’ people loved the mystery, but hated the answers (or lack thereof).

The Leftovers may not be about ascertaining any particular answers, but if the journey the characters go on becomes more interesting than the disappearance phenomenon itself, it could still be a profound show worth giving time to.

The good:

  • Well acted
  • Atmospheric
  • Good amount of mystery and suspense

The bad:

  • Depressing for most viewers
  • Ambiguous
  • Some annoying teens in the show. (But I think that’s a personal bugbear)