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TV Review: HBO’s New Series ‘The Leftovers’

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Television seems, these days, to be all about life after the apocalypse, whether it be brought about by zombies (The Walking Dead), mysterious viruses (The Strain, The Last Ship), loss of the power grid (Revolution), or in the case of HBO’s newest series The Leftovers something far more mysterious. No one knows what happened three years before the start of The Leftovers, except that two percent of the world’s population went “poof.”HBO Leftovers

The series was created by Tom Perrotta, based on his novel of the same name, and Lost’s Damon Lindelof. It debuts Sunday night, June 29 on HBO. Although we see some flashbacks to the day of “the departure,” the story picks up with the still-shattered lives of those left behind in the small community of Mapleton, New York. No closure, no sense of why, just endless questions and attempts to cope with the inconceivable.

Is the disappearance of all those people the Rapture, and those left behind those who do not deserve to be scooped up into heaven? Or not? Why are there innocents still remaining on earth? Babies, young children, good people? And why do the “departed” include drug dealers, murderers on death row and other unsavory types?

At the heart of the story is police Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux). On the day of the Sudden Departure, Garvey lost his infant son, who disappears from his carseat while his wife is at the wheel. Three years later, Garvey is still trying to cope; his wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman) is now part of a growing and increasingly powerful cult called the Guilty Remnant, and Garvey is trying to raise his daughter Jill and her best friend (whose entire family was taken). His son Tom (Chris Zylka) has joined up with a charismatic healer of emotional pain called Holy Wayne (Paterson Joseph), whose magical hugs absorb the pain of loss suffered by virtually everyone in the world.

Meanwhile the Reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) preaches about the injustice of this “rapture,” printing leaflets about those taken up who are amongst the most sinful sinners on the planet. (The most compelling of the early episodes is episode three, which focuses on Jamison’s story.) And then there is mystery man Dean (Michael Gaston), who might be Kevin’s greatest ally or the devil himself.

The series is relentlessly downbeat and serious, focusing more on feeling, emotion, and atmosphere than on a plot about the how and why. (We never actually see anyone disappear, only the absence of sound, the aftermath of cars that crashed because their drivers had vanished, etc.). The Leftovers is beautifully written and well-acted.

Although there are many threads in the series narrative, the most interesting source of tension thus far (I have seen four of the first five episodes: one, two, three, and five–episode four was not ready for release for early viewing by the media) is the struggle between the Guilty Remnant, which is buying up land and houses all over town, immediately painting them white. The cult’s members wear all white (and they even steal white garments) and have taken vows of silence. They communicate by writing on pads of paper, if at all. They also all seem to chain smoke. Their attitude is to learn simply not to care–make themselves immune to the constant torment of unresolved grief. But their main activity seems to be silently stalking the townsfolk, targeting the vulnerable for recruitment. There is something vaguely intimidating about their silent presence everywhere, and their relationship with everyone is extremely tense.

Like Cormack McCarthy’s novel (and the subsequent film) The Road, The Leftovers is less about the apocalypse and more about human reaction to the inexplicable and unthinkable. It is a heavy summer series–but worth the 10-episode ride.

The Leftovers premieres on HBO tonight at 10:00 p.m. ET. In the meantime, enjoy a preview, courtesy of HBO:

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • Just my take

    That wasn’t Garvey’s infant son that disappeared from the car seat. He meets the baby’s mother farther on in the episode at the bar.

  • clockwork

    Weird to get the main facts completely wrong and then write a review