HBO's The Leftovers Takes Time to Warm Up

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HBO Leftovers Season One Critical Blast Dennis Russo

THE LEFTOVERS, an HBO series, is a complex story that takes place three years after an “event” happens where 120 million people -- 2% of the world’s population -- disappeared in an instant. It centers on the town of Mapleton, New York where 100 people disappeared and the local sheriff, Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), is trying to hold his family together while simultaneously trying to keep the peace and help people get on with their lives.

Some people said, and still say, that the event was the Rapture, while some say it isn’t that because not everyone was a good person that disappeared. Others still look to some sort of scientific physics-based explanation to the phenomenon.

In the story, several people’s lives intricately intertwine. Sheriff Garvey's wife, Laurie (Amy Brenneman), has left him and joined a cult called the Guilty Remnant, led by Patti Levin (masterfully portrayed by Ann Dowd). The cult, referred to as the GR, do not speak, wear only white, and smoke cigarettes. They protest events and stand around town trying to make people see that there is no sense in trying to go on with their lives as normal, that everything in the past doesn’t matter, and nothing in the future does either--that everyone who does try to live normally is just wasting their breath because that’s all gone. They also do some very macabre things that really mess with the townspeople. Garvey's teenage daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) is trying to cope with the disappearance, her mother’s leaving them for the cult, and just being a teenager. His son Tom (Chris Zylka) has gotten involved with a different cult led by a man named Wayne Gilchrest (Paterson Joseph) who can apparently remove people's burdens and make them feel better.

Mayor Lucy Warburton (Amanda Warren) is just trying to do what she can to help people return to normal lives, and is opposed at every turn by the sheriff, who doesn’t think they should do anything that would cause people to be reminded about what happened, and the GR, who refuse to let people enjoy themselves when they try to.

Throw into this mix a young woman, Meg Abbot (Live Tyler), who decides she wants to join the GR but isn’t ready to give up everything yet. The sheriff’s dad, who was the chief of police when the event occurred and went off the deep end claiming to hear voices now, is a mysterious man who drives around town shooting packs of wild dogs. You can see why my head spun early on.

This is a very complex, very intertwined story, and the early episodes are spent going back and forth between the main characters, in the present and the past in flashback snippets, in an attempt to bring us up to speed. But it’s done so in a way that we don’t get all the pieces quickly, so I was left trying to understand what it was I just saw and how does it relate to the character and what was missing that would complete the story? With so much going on, and me trying to do all that, I was confused for the first couple of episodes.

It wasn’t until the third episode where it settled in for the entire episode around one person, a clergyman named Matt Jameson, played awesomely by Christopher Eccleston (yes, of DOCTOR WHO) who gives a commanding performance as the pastor trying to prove to everyone that it wasn’t the Rapture because some of the people who disappeared were not good people. If it was, they wouldn’t have been taken, and he believes that if it were the Rapture, he would have/should have been taken instead of these others he is trying to expose.

As I got into the middle of the episodes, I felt comfortable enough with the characters and their stories where I could finally concentrate on what I was watching and not what was missing.

There are still a lot of flashbacks, and we learn something new each episode as this sort of series goes. Think along the lines of LOST, WALKING DEAD, and ONCE UPON A TIME, only with a lot more hard cursing. I’m not a prude, and I don’t mind some curses dropped here and there, but the f-bombs I just don’t think are necessary in the telling of the story.

On the whole, the acting is very good to excellent by both those who speak and those who don’t. In the case of the GR, who don’t speak as a rule, the two stellar performances here are that of Ann Dowd and Amy Brenneman. They both convey such emotion in their faces and with their mannerisms that I was blown away and felt what their characters were saying and feeling though they spoke nothing (most of the time).

While I never got into LOST, I am a big fan of both ONCE UPON A TIME and THE WALKING DEAD, and while I liked those shows from the very first episode, it took me to get a couple of episodes to start to really get into this show. But it was one of those cases where sticking with it has paid dividends, because by the end of season one I felt that I have come a long way with all of the characters and have come to like some and hate others, mainly due to the fine acting more so than the actual story lines. I look forward to season two and the twists that will ensue. There are enough twists and turns here to keep even the most adept at figuring out plot lines guessing what is going to happen next, and I think that is the main strength of the whole series.

Think about it: how simple is the overarching story? People disappeared. On the surface, you can’t get simpler than that. People have disappeared throughout history and life went on as normal. But here, because it is a lot of people, everybody’s minds are working in different ways. Cults and theories are popping up everywhere, causing all sorts of strife throughout the town and around the world. It’s amazing how complex a story the writer has constructed from such a basic story line.

The extras included in this DVD set are very good and go a long way to fill in gaps and missing pieces that you may not have put together on your own. In fact, I would dare say that you might actually enjoy the series more knowing some of the things the bonus features tell you about the characters, the GR, etc.

The two-disc Blu-ray also comes with a Digital HD copy. Extras included on the discs are:

Disc 1

  1. Making of The Leftovers: HBO created featurettes (around 33 minutes) on the origins of the show.

  2. Pilot Audio commentary

Disc 2

  1. I Remember: A Season One conversation with Damon Lindelof and Tom Perotta-The 2 share insights about the challenges of telling a complex, daring story that blends sci-fi, religion, and social commentary to tackle universal themes.

  2. Living Reminders: The Guilty Remnant-Insights into the “GR” that includes comments on the challenges of portraying someone who doesn’t speak by some of the actors portraying them. Really good and a must see!

  3. Finale Audio Commentary with Executive Producer Damon Lindelof and Executive Producer/Director Mimi Leder.

  4. Beyond The Book: Season Two-Damon Lindelof and actors provide a tantalizing preview of some of the twist and turns ahead in season two.

4.0 / 5.0