While HBO’s THE LEFTOVERS seemed like an extremely intriguing show to watch based of the many trailers and promotional material I saw, I was hesitant to add it to my ever-expanding viewing list because it had a strong “this show will likely be canceled because it is so far out there, kind of scary, and above the general public” kind of vibe. Anyone that has watched HBO’s JOHN FROM CINCINNATI and/or CARNIVALE know exactly what I mean. But alas, the show looked too damn good to pass up and I decided to give it a go. I made the right choice.
THE LEFTOVERS is based on a novel of the same name by author Tom Perrotta who serves as a co-creator and co-wrtiter along with LOST (my personal favorite TV show) veteran Daman Lindelof. I never read the novel, and likely never will (*cough* GAME OF THRONES *cough*) because I am now invested in this series and these characters on screen. The basic premise (impossible to fully explain) revolves around an event called “The Departure” where 2% of the world’s population just vanished out of seemingly thin air. In turn, we have a cast of characters who were “left behind” and we witness them try and make sense out of the whole situation, mourn the loss of their loved ones, and seek answers to questions they may never get answered. Basically, everyone is confused as hell, filled with questions and rage, and they all just want to know what happened and why. This makes for some great TV. I was always captivated, thinking about the hard questions this show asks, and generally eager to get to the next episode and a week was an awful long time to wait. Like I said, good TV.
The intriguing story in THE LEFTOVERS is complimented by an amazing cast of actors whom all play their characters extremely well. I have not heard of a lot of the actors in this show before, and I can safely say that pretty much all of them deserve any praise they receive for their performances here. Most notable is the lead Justin Theroux (AMERICAN PSYCHO) who plays Chief of Police Kevin Garvey. While he didn’t lose any of his current family members during “The Departure”, the event pulled his apart ceasing any sense or normalcy they once had. His wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman; HEAT) joined a cult called “The Guilty Remnant” that dresses in all white, chain smokes, doesn’t speak (for the most part), eerily stands in front of peoples houses, and makes it their sole initiative to not let anyone forget “The Departure” and refuses to move on like nothing happened. Kevin and Laurie’s daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley; PALO ALTO) was a straight A student who pretty much shut down after her mom split and now has a difficult relationship with her father. And their son Tommy (Chris Zylka; THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN) has dropped out of college and taken refuge with a mysterious man named “Holy Wayne” flawlessly played by Paterson Joseph (THE BEACH) whom seemingly has the ability to take your fears and worries away with a simple hug. Creepy. We also get a great character in the form of Kevin’s aloof (?) father Kevin Garvey Sr. played by the always appreciated Scott Glenn (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS).
Besides the main family, THE LEFTOVERS is beaming with stellar characters. I aforementioned “Holy Wayne” being one of my favorites. Besides him, we get an absolute show-stealer in the form of Ann Dowd (SIDE EFFECTS) who plays Patti Levin who is the leader of “The Guilty Remnant” as is always at odds with Kevin. She is powerful, stoic, funny, and her character really challenges Kevin in bigger ways than almost anyone else. It is a performance that must be seen and will hopefully garner some awards down the line. We also have Christopher Eccleston (DOCTOR WHO) as a former reverend named Matt Jamison who often wonders why he was not “chosen” and his sister Carrie Coon (GONE GIRL) who was a wife and mother who lost everyone in the event and struggles with why they all left but she remained. We also see Liv Tyler (ARMAGEDDON) as Megan Abbott who was a soon-to-be-married woman that gravitates towards “The Guilty Remnant” and Michael Gaston (JERICHO) who seems to be taking the whole event head-on and accepts the new world order. Of course there is a whole plethora of other supporting characters (this IS and HBO show), and I can safely say they all deserve to be recognized as being part of an ensemble cast that is an absolute home run. There are no weak link on this sausage train, trust me.
What works best for THE LEFTOVERS is just how weird it all is and the fact that it asks a lot of hard questions. I suppose the main theme here is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of death (the same thing?), fear of cults, fear of religion (the same thing?), fear of aliens, fear of government cover-ups, fear of dreams, fear of lose, fear of being left behind. Ok, so maybe not aliens, but you never know. That’s what’s so wonderful about this show. No solid answers are given, and it is up to you the viewer to decide what’s going on. And the great thing is, whatever you come up with ultimately says more about yourself than the show or story. There is enough mystery and vagueness here to keep any intelligent viewer involved and asking questions. The writers string you along the edges of a line and constantly has you wanting (needing?) to know what it all means assuming there IS an answer. Will there be a concrete answer? Or will it all be within the eye of the beholder? I’m pretty sure anyone who has ever asked the question “What is the meaning of life” or “Why are we here” will really enjoy this show and all it has to offer. Just be ready for a few challenging episodes, some intense and brutal acts of violence, and the possibility of learning something new about yourself.
THE LEFTOVERS has an infinitely intriguing premise that forces the watcher to ask a lot of questions and I was captivated throughout this entire 10 episode first season run. And yes, thankfully, THE LEFTOVERS has been officially green lit for Season 2. Phew… A great story, complimented by a huge amount of equally great characters makes THE LEFTOVERS something truly special. And while this first season may not have answered all the questions I wanted it too, it sure does have me enthralled and on the edge of my seat eagerly awaiting what happens next. Highly recommended.
Final Score: 9 out of 10