I review this summer’s most depressing (but also one of its most addictive) show on TV, the first season of HBO’s The Leftovers – a dramatisation of Tom Perrotta’s standalone novel, starring Justin Theroux, Christopher Eccleston, Sarah Margaret Qualley, Carrie Coon and more. This show is created by Damon Lindelof, the man responsible for Lost – with the aid of Perrotta himself.
HBO’s name has been synonymous with good television in the last few years. The likes of The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones and True Detective have all received critical acclaim, and even True Blood started off strongly according to those who have seen it. They’ve built up so much goodwill by delivering hit after hit with me that I’ll literally check out anything new that they put out provided that it catches my interest – and The Leftovers, a weird, post-rapture series based on a single novel that’s not even half as large as the first Game of Thrones book had a lot of potential to go awry. However, when I started hearing the impressive list of cast announcements (read: Christopher Eccleston), and the positive reviews start to filter through this seemed like another winner. And whilst The Leftovers isn’t exactly perfect, it’s certainly one of the better new dramas that we’ve had on television this year and I will look forward to the return of the show next year.
In the blink of an eye, 2% of the population of Earth vanish under mysterious circumstances. They could be anyone, from the Pope to people who are having affairs, and what became known as the Rapture seemingly takes people at random, which as you can imagine, would affect Christians who have been left behind greatly. The show itself picks up three years later, and focuses in on the small town of Mapleton, allowing us to zero in on a small cast and not have the narrative spread across the world like Game of Thrones. It’s also quite clear that The Leftovers is very much a character study, and focuses primarily on development of these unique, flawed and (some) twisted characters. There’s no perfect people here, and as a result if you came in expecting people trying to find out what happened to the Rapture it’s unlikely. Having since read Tom Perrotta’s novel that the series was based on, It’s fairly likely that there in fact won’t be any answers to why the Rapture happened, which comes as a refreshing change for the many who were disappointed by the revelations of the other show that Lindelof has worked on – Lost.
The high budget is good and the cast pull off their characters very well. Christopher Eccleston plays the tortured Preacher Matt, who goes through ordeal after ordeal as he tries to remind the people of Mapleton that those who have disappeared weren’t all nice people, doing this in a manner that annoys their loved ones. Justin Theroux plays police chief Kevin Garvey, whose wife (Amy Brenneman) joined a cult known as the Guilty Remnant, his son Tom (Chris Zylka) has gone AWOL, and his daughter Jill (Sarah Margaret Qualley) is no longer your straight A student, instead being rebellious like most teenagers post Rapture. It’s a dangerous and unpredictable world, and as Kevin starts to fear that he’s losing his sanity, his whole world begins to crumble around him.
I mentioned the Guilty Remnant in the previous paragraph but I’d like to explain more about them here. They’re one of the many different cults that has sprung up Post-Rapture and have evolved into a mysterious group that haunts Mapleton. Wearing all white and constantly seen in pairs, smoking – they are forbidden from speaking and can only write on notepads to convey their messages. Among them includes several former Mapleton residents who have mostly lost something dear to them in the Rapture, as they claim to want to make people remember the lost. However, they often do this in cold-blooded, cruel and sometimes downright evil ways, that are best left for yourself to discover. One thing’s for sure, they’re quite clearly a unique beast in television, and it’ll be interesting to see what the Guilty Remnant have in store come season two especially given the events of the finale.
Don’t expect a lot of action to happen here, but that doesn’t mean that The Leftovers is boring. It’s compelling, addictive and confusing and will have you entranced even though you don’t know what’s going on half of the time. The series is heavily serialized and I wouldn’t encourage missing out on any episode (mainly because the series itself is relatively small, at ten hour long episodes) because they’re that interconnected.
There are problems however. The show aired for many at the wrong time, being a too depressing show in the summer when arguably it would have received more critical acclaim come winter or the New Year. Don’t expect to laugh out loud during this show, as it’s dark and remains so all the way through until a finale that surprisingly, actually ends on a relatively happy note. It’s also been the most divisive show of the year, and you’re either going to end up loving it or hating it. I loved it myself, but I’ve encountered more than one person who’s been turned off by the series, probably mainly due to incorrect expectations.
Don’t go in expecting this to be an action packed series. It’s very character driven, very dark but at the same time, very engrossing. It may take a few episodes to grow on you, so I encourage you to stick around until at least episode four (the trial run that you should really give all shows before deciding whether to skip or drop). But once it grows on you you’ll be well and truly hooked.