Review: ‘The Leftovers: The Complete First Season’

In the opening moments of The Leftovers, HBO’s excellent new drama, wife and mother Nora straps her crying infant son into his car seat. In a horrifying matter of seconds, Nora discovers her son has vanished, part of the Sudden Disappearance, that claimed 2% of the entire world’s population.

Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers was created by the author and Damon Lindelof, best known for his work on another of my favorite shows, Lost. Much like that show, The Leftovers presents a mysterious happening and examines the aftermath. After the opening sequence, the pilot flash forwards three years, to a world, still struggling with unanswered questions, but that has somehow picked up the pieces anyway. Much of the show is about just how we are able to face an unknowable tragedy and still find a way to live our lives.

The pilot examines specifically just how the Sudden Disapperance has splintered the Garvey family. Mapleton police chief Kevin Garvey, played by the talented Justin Theroux, self medicates with alcohol as he deals with the pieces. His wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman), has joined a Guilty Remnant, as cult like group who chain smokes, doesn’t speak, and spends their times disrupting survivor events and stalking residents of the small town, like the nearly wed Meg Abbott (Liv Tyler). Their son Tom (Chris Zylka) left college and headed west, taking up with a weird guru named Wayne who has visions and a compound full of women. Then there’s Jill (Margaret Qualley), their teenage daughter who pushes back as you might expect, but also navigates a youth culture of decadent sex and drugs.

Through it all, no one has come away unscathed by the Sudden Disappearance, and no one is anywhere close to an answer. Without an explanation from science or religion, people are thrown back into their bleaker lives, where they must find their own new normal. For some, it’s the Remnant, for others suicide, and still others it’s pushing for an explanation like the former reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), who refuses to believe it was the Rapture and publishes the sins of those who were taken.

The Leftovers captures reality well, sometimes too well. The Sudden Disappearance becomes another touchstone of people’s lives, where they bond over where they were when it happened like 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombing. Mapleton wants to create an event where families and those still here can come together for catharsis or grieving. There are plenty of echoes with real life tragedies as Mapleton gears up of the inaugural Heroes Day parade, in the hopes of giving those still here a sense of closure or a place to grieve. This idea isn’t without its detractors, as Kevin knows the Remnant will be on hand and could possibly incite a riot. But we want these sometimes empty gestures because it’s something we can control when that sense of control has been ripped from us in unexplainable ways.

Make no mistake: The Leftovers is a riveting drama that will grip you and demand your attention. We’re dropped into this world just as the disappearance happens, forced to make sense of it all as the show progresses. It’s bleak without ever being too heavy. Having only watched the pilot so far, the show only loses steam when attempting to balance the Remnant and the strange scenes with Wayne. There’s obviously something strange, possibly sci-fi afoot, but the subtle differences between these two throw things off for a bit. The show also seems to be built constructed where each episode is centered on a particular character, another similarity to Lost. Characterization is one of Lindelof’s strong suits, as is his thematic love of religion, and both are in full force here.

Available in stores now.

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