TV Review: “The Leftovers” – Something Left to Prove

Written by Jesse Gelinas July 30, 2014

A memorial for the lost souls on "The Leftovers"

With “Game of Thrones” over for the year and “Boardwalk Empire” a few months away, HBO needs something solid and enticing to fill the Summer drama void. People may still be reeling from the phenomenon that is “True Detective”, and while “The Leftovers” is not at the same level as the new anthology series, it is certainly a welcome addition to HBO’s lineup. Its story isn’t the sunniest, and the pacing could use a bit of tune up, but a solid cast and some genuine (if frustrating) intrigue make it well worth a watch.

“The Leftovers” takes place in Mapleton, New York. Three years ago the Sudden Departure occurred, and 2% of the world’s population (140 million people) vanished in an instant. People lost loved ones, friends, sons and daughters, etc. In Mapleton, we meet Kevin Garvey, Chief of Police. Much of the plot centers on his family as he tries to do a decent job with the legacy of a crazy father and a drinking problem. His son is acolyte to a narcissistic cult leader in California, His wife is part of a separate local cult, the Guilt Remnant, who have horrible smoking habits and do not speak. And his daughter, Jill is…just kind of there to be depressing.

“It’s easier to stay silent than it is to speak truth.”

The cast is definitely the series’ strongest asset. Justin Theroux, who I never thought I’d see starring in his own HBO drama, is charismatic as hell and perfectly suited for the semi-unstable Garvey. He has a quiet intensity and inner turmoil about him that just makes me want to watch more. Christopher Eccleston (of “Doctor Who” fame) is fantastic, as expected, in the role of Reverend Matt Jamison; Jamison insists on informing the town about the disappeared people’s sins and transgressions. His point is that it couldn’t have been the Rapture with so many sinners gone. The rest of the cast is solid, with the exception of Margaret Qualley as Jill Garvey. Let me be clear: Her acting is in no way weak, but the character is just annoying to watch and I find myself bored every time she’s on screen.

The Guilty Remnant make their message clear on "The leftovers"

The mystery of “where did people go” is only the jumping-off point for “The Leftovers”. The conflicts between the townspeople and the extreme methods they use to deal with their loss is the driving force behind the drama. With multiple cults to keep track of, it’s obvious things aren’t necessarily going well. The Guilty Remnant insist on actively recruiting by stalking potential converts. They also campaign their message by buying up property, painting public items white, and stealing personal items from people’s homes.

“I get the Pope; but Gary fucking Busey? How’d he make the cut?”

Episode three, called “Two Boats and a Helicopter”, focuses entirely on Eccleston’s Reverend Jamison, and it’s by far the best episode yet. This shows the writers’ knack for making even a single character engaging and interesting enough to carry an hour of television. It also shows the depth of intrigue the show can have without focusing on the big mystery. The episode flies by and you never even notice the strangeness of the structure, especially for a series with such a sizable cast.

Teenage innocence is nonexistent on "The Leftovers"

If I had one complaint about “The Leftovers”, it would be the obtuse way in which the mystery is handled at times. Yes, 140 million people disappeared. Yes, we don’t know why or where they’ve gone. Yes, we’d like to know. The show offers not even a trace or a hint of the beginning to an answer. Of course, this isn’t the sole focus of the show. But (in classic Lindelof fashion) we are treated to numerous seemingly pointless scenes of symbolism and silent character confusion, mirroring our own. I’d rather the show not turn into “Lost”. It may not since “The Leftovers” has so much potential, so let’s hope it avoids the fate of “Lost”. Added to that, the show is based off of a single novel, and I do wonder how far the material can be stretched when they are already burning through the book’s plot points.

“I think I’m meant to stay broken. Maybe we all are.”

All in all, “The Leftovers” is a pretty intriguing drama with a huge helping of mystery always at the ready. It’s entertaining, if a bit bleak, and definitely worth a watch. With the esoteric subject matter and occasionally frustrating unanswered questions, it can be a bit irritating at times. While the future of this series may still be in question, it’ll be interesting to see where this season lead and whether it will prove itself as a potentially longstanding HBO hit.

My Rating: 7.5/10

Justn Theroux on the poster for HBO's "The Leftovers"

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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