HBO’s ‘The Leftovers’ Heats Up After Tepid Start (SPOILERS)

The Leftovers HBO

Few TV shows turn the corner creatively speaking quite as quickly as “The Leftovers,” which with its fifth and sixth episodes has significantly raised the bar from where the show began, becoming a far more engrossing experience. Indeed, had the HBO drama started out with similar vigor it would have likely drawn a rave review from this quadrant, instead of the tepid response it received.

Producers Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, working from the latter’s book, have been frittering around the edges of something interesting in the early episodes, but seriously struggled with conveying why the audience should give a damn about its characters despite the sobering nature of their situation. There’s also the little matter of the triggering event — the sudden disappearance of 2% of the world’s population, which some perceive as the Rapture.

Initially, the series was weird, even eerie, but not particularly engaging. Sure, there’s the Guilty Remnant — a cult that has sprouted up in response to such an inexplicable catastrophe — but their self-imposed silence only heightened a sense of frustration with the show.

Last week, however, saw the series deal with the brutal slaying of a cult member, highlighting just how fragile civility has become under these extraordinary circumstances. And the latest hour (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched) finally gave “The Leftovers” a vibrant pulse by zeroing in on how damaged even the ostensibly normal survivors are, as related through the prism of Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), whose entire family (husband and children) were among the departed.

Nora’s desperation to feel — something, anything — was searingly driven home by her hiring of a prostitute to shoot her, absorbing the brutal impact through a bullet-proof vest. The fact that her job includes interviewing those who suffered a loss seems especially sobering, especially after her emotional breakdown later in the hour while meeting with a spiritual guru (Paterson Joseph), who might very well be a gifted charlatan/huckster.

The power of Sunday’s episode notwithstanding — and the scene between Coon and Joseph is a beautifully played showstopper — it’s still not entirely clear “The Leftovers” can find (or perhaps more accurately, maintain) a sense of equilibrium. That’s in part because its central family — the sheriff (Justin Theroux), his estranged wife (Amy Brenneman) and their kids — remain among the least interesting personalities, although the budding relationship between the sheriff and Nora bodes well.

Still, this creative surge creates a greater sense of hope that there really is a firstrate if somewhat off-kilter series within this concept — poignantly probing grief and the often arbitrary nature of loss.

Perrotta flagged this aspect in HBO’s press materials, saying even he didn’t fully understand at first that the book “became an examination of collective grief, and I realized I was writing about a search for meaning in the wake of a terrible mystery.”

Despite initial reservations about the first course, “The Leftovers” has heated up, exhibiting the ingredients to become more than just your run-of-the-mill TV dinner. The disclaimer would be that based on past performance, viewers might have to settle for something of an uneven, hit-miss affair, meaning this rush of goodwill could just as quickly vanish.

Nevertheless, if we find ourselves looking back at “The Leftovers” and ranking it among great pay-cable dramas, the key juncture as to when that happened won’t be any mystery at all.

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  1. leslie says:

    Sure wish this would carry on about answering a question or two instead of continuously bringing more

  2. Ginny nulty says:

    To me, the leftovers may be the most brilliant tv series I have ever watched. I love the evolution of TV. It relegates paying huge movie prices only for 3D or special effects. It would be near impossible to reach this level of sophistication in a couple hours. yes, sometimes the show is a bit uneven, but that adds to its watch ability. I eagerly await each episode and the philosophical discussions it sparks afterward. I guess there is a place for real housewives fare but give me a show that excites my brain. The leftovers definitely delivers

  3. Lynn says:

    One thing I just remembered, HBO did give us True Detective last season and that was outstanding!!!!!!! And I did enjoy Silicon Valley.

  4. Lynn says:

    There is such great shows on. This has been a huge disappointment. HBO better get it together. SHO is catching up and FX and AMC! Let’s face it. There’s Ray Donovan, Master’s of Sex, The Bridge, Homeland, the Walking Dead. We had Breaking Bad, that was brilliant. We had Dexter. We couldn’t get enough. Watching this show is a chore. Even a new show on AMC called Halt and Catch Fire about the early days of computers is more interesting and has better character development. A new one on Cinemax just stared called The Knick with Clive Owen, directed by Steven Soderbergh…..better watch it HBO. I even gave up on True Blood. I loved it when it started, but after 4 seasons it got stupid. So I only have Broadwalk Empire and Games of Thrones to look forward too. Not a good sign. I find this show just boring. But Justin Theroux is very hot:-)

  5. dale says:

    Well you know, I disagree. The first two episodes I liked, but can we make some progress? As in some follow ups on the first two. I will not continue to wait for them to continue. I know enough characters for now.

    • Pat says:

      I have had enough of wondering what is going on…. this is beginning to feel a lot like “Lost” which lost me around season 2 and then dissolved into a silly pretentious ending. I am beginning to suspect the same thing is going to happen here. Hint to the writers and the directors….a story has to appear to go somewhere. Right now it is literally wandering in the woods.

  6. What’s the opposite of jumping the shark?

  7. Liam says:

    Yes, these last episodes have been on the great end of the quality specter. And Carrie Coon knocked it out of the park in the last one. I’m intrigued with where they are going with this – can be a total lackluster, but fingers crossed.

  8. Steve says:

    Some shows are well written and it shows without having to have someone point it out. While fans try to say this is true of The Leftovers, it’s just not so. It’s easy to see when PR and Marketing get involved to try and create buzz; this article is pretty blatant in that.

    • Lynn says:

      I agree. You pretty much know if this is going somewhere. If the writing is good. If you like the characters and you care about them. There is tremendous competition out there. Who are they kidding? I have been trying to get Into it. I’m thinking ” is it me?” Think not. I think you validated that for me.

  9. whatthewhereis says:

    Gotta say, it was pretty clear from Episode 3 that this show has something special going for it. I was a little on the fence despite a relatively strong pilot but 3 solidified it for me. The single character episodes are amazing.

  10. jedi77 says:

    For a show that has stated from the beginning, that it will not have any conclusion, I’m amazed anyone watches it at all.

    • dale says:

      they are losing me

    • Context is important – the show WILL have a conclusion, it just won’t answer definitively how or why 2% of the world’s population disappeared. Now there will most likely be some clues and symbolism for viewers to decipher, but that’ll be it. This show is about the characters reacting to an incomprehensible event and what it does to their personal and collective psyches. What I find funny is that people who wont otherwise give the show the time of day just have to interject with every article.
      Why waste your time? Anyway, this show is great; a modern day Twilight Zone.

      • Pat says:

        No it is not anything like Twilight Zone. Those shows had a beginning, plot development and an ending. Everything was not always neatly tied up with a bow, but you were not being jerked around with a “and then, and then….” adding on of plot complications until you no longer care. I think that the 2% escaped and the rest are pissed because they are stuck in this pretentious nonsense.

  11. Richard Phoenix says:

    I agree with article ! Leftovers made little sense until the ” Gladys # 5 ” episode. The Gladys episode was an emotional TV masterpiece. I watched again with my buddy & he agreed. We decided to re-view the first episode and this series all started to make sense to us. Episode 3 ( about the preacher I think ) brought us to the conclusion that the Leftover’s is a 2014 Twilight Zone interpretation . In episode 3 , when you see how screwed up the preacher’s life is and think things would get better ; they only get worse. Total emotional roller coaster ! Every element ( including ) the soundtrack is crucial but not created for main stream intellect. We feel that this series will be overlooked because it is simply too intense. I can’t wait for the next episode.

  12. AA Jabrams says:

    Garbage.

  13. I love “The Leftovers”. It`s good show

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