The pedigree surrounding HBO’s newest show is curious to say the least. Damon Lindelof, co-creator of Lost, returns to television with his first show since the divisive hit. The Leftovers, based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, is proving to be just as challenging. Unlike Lost, Leftovers has proven to be more balanced, where for every thing executed well, something is done equally poor.
The story takes place three years after a Rapture like event, where 2% of the world’s population unexpectedly vanished. Centering on a family, the Garvey’s, along with a few residents in their small New York town, the show focuses on what comes after, how everyone carries on without answers. Lindelof and Perrotta have stated they won’t explain how or why everyone left. If you’ve come here for that sort of mystery, prepare to be disappointed.
Leftovers features a wide cast of white people that should have been reduced by half. It’s not that any actor was poor, there simply wasn’t enough plot to go around for some while others were given too much. Lead Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) was one layer too deep for an opening season. The pressures of being a cop, surviving, and dealing with his family all while going crazy was a step too far. Daughter Jill Garvey (Margaret Qualley) was little more than an angst ridden teen. Son Tom Garvey (Chris Zylka) was completely superfluous, not interacting with any other character with no impact on the show, save for a flat moment in the finale.
Easily, the most underutilized element was Liv Tyler. Arguably the biggest name on the show, she was completely wasted. Her character, Megan, was quickly relegated to background, despite being devoted time in the opening episodes. While the list of useless characters continues (Holy Wayne, Dean – dog hunter guy, Christine), they weren’t portrayed by big name actors. Tyler’s character is symptomatic of the myriad of missed opportunities.
Despite the dead weight, there was plenty to enjoy. The Guilty Remnant was the most interesting element of the show, though their purpose made little sense. They were an intriguing product of the post-lite-apocalyptic world, working well as a series antagonist, at least in action, less so in theory. Patti and Kevin’s talk in episode 8 was reminiscent of Neo and the Architect in Matrix: Reloaded, and made as much sense.
Of the season, episodes 3 and 6 standout as highlights. Both episodes focused on supporting characters Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) and Nora Durst (Carrie Coon). The strength of these two hours is enough to recommend the show, particularly episode 3, which can be viewed without any prior knowledge, save for the premise. These episodes, while exemplary, only further indicate the overall flaws with the ensemble. Less is more.
Another problem I found irksome was the lack of diversity. This easily could have been called White People Have Problems. Aside from Holy Wayne and Christine (who are black and Asian, respectively), the only other minority character with a name is Lucy Warburton (Amanda Warren), the mayor, who’s black and female. I guess that’s a twofer. I won’t dovetail into a tangent about equal representation on television (or elsewhere), only sighting this as another culprit.
Watching the show in bulk as I did, and I’m sure many will, I found it enjoyable, excited to reach the end despite a few nagging issues. It was only with the anticlimactic finale that I was let down. Little paid off with less answered. This only exacerbated the issues I had with early elements. As an emotional journey, The Leftovers is a resounding success. As a mystery/suspense story, it utterly fails to answer any of the questions it poses (the “What the eff is up with that magazine?” kind, not the “Why are we here?”).
The first season of The Leftovers did too little with too much. If the characters were pared-down or any of the questions posed were answered, I’d be more forgiving. I can only recommend if you’re looking for an emotional experience, otherwise, prepared to be letdown.
Lack of answers bother you? Did this tickle your feels? Comment below!
Seriously, episode 3.