TV Review: ‘The Leftovers’

The leftovers HBO TV Review

After all the psychic energy expended fretting about how Damon Lindelof’s last series, “Lost,” would end (a finish many found lacking), it’s perhaps understandable why he’d be drawn to “The Leftovers,” Tom Perrotta’s provocative book, where the big mystery involves the abrupt disappearance of 2% of the world’s population, and the fallout from that cataclysmic event. Those shock waves certainly provide fertile dramatic material, but the show somewhat unevenly mixes its universal theme — probing how people cope with grief and loss — with the particulars of its characters. What’s left is undoubtedly interesting; whether it’s worthy of rapturous praise is another matter.

The author of the books-turned-movies “Election” and “Little Children,” Perrotta’s concept here is constructed in an extremely clever way: The percentage of those who vanished (“the Sudden Departure,” it’s called) is enough to have touched virtually every life, without so devastating the fabric of society as to keep those who remain from muddling on.

Moreover, the inexplicable nature of what occurred — was it the Rapture? And if so, why weren’t all those who went away saintly? — creates a sense of gnawing unease in its inconclusiveness. One can only imagine what cable news would do with a story like that, and indeed, in terms of the craziness unleashed, it’s possible “The Leftovers” doesn’t go quite far enough.

In one sense, Perrotta’s conceit provides the means to explore grappling with the often-arbitrary nature of death, simultaneously painting on a vast canvas and a deeply personal one. Once you get past that, however — and the series begins, after a fleeting prologue, three years later — there’s a mundane quality to it, which includes the more banal aspects of family drama and characters of unequal appeal.

At the center of it all is the sheriff of the small town of Maplewood, Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), who is desperately trying to hold together what’s left of his family. That includes a teenage daughter (Margaret Qualley) and son (Chris Zylka) who is absent, having joined one of the cults that has sprung up in response to the Departure.

The most vivid of those groups is known as the Guilty Remnant, whose members have taken a vow of silence and wear all white (the austerity of George Lucas’ “THX 1138” comes to mind), seeking to force the rest of society to confront — or at least, not forget — what happened.

In the opening episodes, including the pilot written by Lindelof and Perrotta, and directed by Peter Berg, there’s certainly an eerie, unsettling quality to all this, including the little matter of stray dog packs who seem as out of sorts as the human population.

That said, it’s hard to get one’s arms around the series, which takes an early detour to focus on a minister (Christopher Eccleston) who is dealing with this test of faith by putting his own uncomfortable spin on what transpired.

Perrotta chose the right venue to tackle this latest project, since a series — and pay cable’s latitude — suits its complexities. That said, the struggles involving the sheriff and his acting-out daughter already feel a trifle tepid, and the Guilty Remnant’s silence (they write notes when compelled to communicate) is one of those fine-for-books ideas that proves confining onscreen.

Perhaps that’s why “The Leftovers,” despite a big-name cast that includes Amy Brenneman and Liv Tyler, at times feels like less than the sum of its parts.

At least initially, the series is driven largely by its tone (Max Richter’s score is especially helpful in that regard), and it’s bound to make people think, which is by itself something of an accomplishment. Still, viewers will face a choice — probably toward the end of the first season — on whether that’s enough incentive to keep them from joining those 2%.

TV Review: 'The Leftovers'

(Series; HBO, Sun. June 29, 10 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in New York by White Rabbit and Film 44 in association with Warner Bros. Television.

Crew

Executive producers, Damon Lindelof, Tom Perrotta, Peter Berg, Sarah Aubrey; co-executive producers, Ron Yerxa, Albert Berger; producer, Nan Bernstein Freed; director, Berg; writers, Lindelof, Perrotta; based on the book by Perrotta; camera, Michael Slovis; production designer, Kristi Zea; editor, Colby Parker Jr.; music, Max Richter; casting, Ellen Lewis, Michael Rafferty. 75 MIN.

Cast

Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston, Liv Tyler, Chris Zylka, Margaret Qualley, Carrie Coon, Emily Meade, Amanda Warren, Ann Dowd, Michael Gaston, Max Carver, Charlie Carver, Annie Q, Paterson Joseph

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  1. crown1310 says:

    The only thing that could save this series is if Peter Dinklage showed up dressed in white smoking a cigar and talking smack to the leader of the cult.

  2. What an awful show. What is HBO doing? Ending True Blood and adding his terrible show? So very disappointed. :(

  3. Rod says:

    This series starts out slow and quickly moves on to boring. It failed to set the hook that reels me into wanting to watch more episodes. The opener fails to raise any poignant questions much less inspire any sense of why we should give a damn about any of the characters. The series feels flat with characters that seem to have popped out of some two dimensional universe to apper on the screen for the viewers un-enjoyment. I found myself watching the clock waiting for the episodes to end or something interesting to happen which incidentaly never did occur. I found myself not caring about how I did not seem to care about this series. As the episodes neared the end I was left thinking about 20 other ways I could have spent my time actually being entertained. This series seems to be the epitome of bad television that many people will try to justify as good so they do not feel bad about wasting their time on such a horrible series. I would suggest skipping the rest of this snoozer to go organize your stamp collection or watch the grass grow which seems infinitely more interesting.

  4. Carl says:

    Waited with much anticipation for this show, but found it flat and not at all interesting. And that’s sad for me as HBO usually does so well putting together subscribers with really good series. Naturally people will say that forming an opinion after only one episode is probably unfair and not advised. But if a series cannot capture my attention with the first episode, why should I stick around for a second, or a third? No, I think I’ll pass on “The Leftovers.”

  5. bitter trekkie says:

    If you’re curious, you can watch the premiere without having HBO on Yahoo Screen. Took about two minutes to bore me. Good thing I’m not wasting my money on HBO!

  6. God, enough with the “Lost” finale bitchery. It ended four years ago. How long does it need to be invoked whenever Lindelof’s name comes up? It was a great finale, but even if it wasn’t, it’s been FOUR YEARS and many projects later. SURELY a Variety.com writer can come up with another lead sentence.

  7. Steve p says:

    Watching now, so far it sucks !

    • LOL Jessica about LOST. I agree with you, but I think it’s because LOST went on for so long. Probably like two years too long and then ended horribly. Give it another year for people to get over! :)

    • Rod says:

      I believe the “bitchery” should last until they prove they can they can touch the audience and bring them to a climax rather than walk away with a weak ending that undermined the entire reason for watching the series. So far all of the negativity seems to be well deserved when they continue to trot lame horses like this out and call them thoroughbreds. Zzzzzzzzz………

  8. Hollywood Mark says:

    It’s not for you or me. It is for the Christian Right. HBO continues their occasional attempts to drag the Christian Right into its cable orbit. (See “Carnivale”) Peter Berg, as pilot director, is there for a reason.

    • Carl says:

      Even though I did not like “The Leftovers,” Berg is there because he is an extremely talented director. He’s done several good movies.

      • crown1310 says:

        I like Peter Berg’s movies also. When I saw he was involved in this project I figured it would be pretty good.
        There is nothing and no one to like in this series.

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