First off, I was not a fan of the novel by Tom Perrotta, but the series on HBO is pretty good. It’s not great, mind you, but compelling enough that I tune in each week. For those who don’t know, The Leftovers is not about food left in a fridge — though that could make for an interesting cooking show where the host takes leftovers and makes them into a different meal. No, this is about the so-called rapture, where people just kind of vanish without a trace. That’s the set up in the first episode. But it doesn’t dwell on where the people went (well, at least not that much). Rather, it’s about the people who didn’t vanish in the blink of an eye and their lives.
The first episode was kind of flat for me. I mean, they really tried to gin up the action in the first five minutes, but it came across as trying too hard to get the viewer to care. A prolonged shot of a mother screaming uncontrollably for her missing kid, a young kid wondering where his dad is, a car crash. You know, the standard (or what has become standard) beginnings for shows where an atypical event happens and people freak out. Damon Lindelof, one of the producer/writers for LOST and the, ahem, “genius” who wrote the horrible screenplay for Prometheus — is producing this show. So right away you have some LOST-ish stuff going on: people vanishing, weird cults, rabid dogs, animals as symbols for future events, etc… At first, my eyes were kind of rolling at how hard the makers of this show were trying to get the viewer to care. But by the second episode, things started to get a bit more interesting. Characters started to feel more real, their stories more compelling, and what it’s all leading to more interesting.
At first, there was a kind of nihilistic funk the characters were in. Lots of drug use, smoking, drinking, empty sex, but now they seem a big more centered. Sure, they are still depressed over their losses, but they seem to be carrying on with the day-to-day on Earth and have come to view the departed in more complicated ways. In last episode I watched, there was a priest who is deeply in debt. He has a wife who is in a kind of catatonic state after a car accident they were both in years ago, his church barely has any members (about 5-6), he’s behind on his mortgage payments, and in danger of his church being sold by the bank. His story is one of faith, cunning, gambling, and a kind of obsessive truth-telling about the horrible lives of many of the departed. But because it’s a series, the episodes do not wrap up each week, nor is there any kind of cliff-hanger. Instead, the show just kind of leaves you with vague conclusions and more tension building in the community.
If you have HBO, or as John Oliver said on “Last Week Tonight,” you’re one of the people who is too poor to pay for it so you get it for free from your friends (i.e., HBO Go), put this one on your “to watch” list.