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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Leftovers: The Jury's still Out


What if two percent of the Earth’s population suddenly vanished? Maybe it was The Rapture, alien abduction, or some other unexplained phenomena.  The premise behind HBO’s The Leftovers is not to explain what happened, but how does one move forward if you did not disappear.  The Leftovers is adapted from Tom Perrotta’s 2011 novel, and is spearheaded by veteran film and television writer/producer Damon Lindelof (Lost and Star Trek).  Tom Perrotta is also an executive producer and writer for the show.  Lindelof and Perrotta have assembled an interesting array of talent including Justin Theroux (Mulholland Drive and HBO’s John Adams mini-series), Amy Brenneman (Judging Amy and Private Practice), Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who and Thor: The Dark World), and Liv Tyler (The Lord of the Rings films).  Full disclosure: I have not read the novel however a friend of mine, who watched two episodes with me, pointed out that HBO’s interpretation lacks the novel’s dark humor.



Fans of Lindelof’s previous projects including Lost will recognize many of the pacing and storytelling devices used in The Leftovers.  Episode one opens with the mass disappearance (dubbed ‘Sudden Disappearance’) on October 14th then jumps ahead three years.  The creators wisely use Nora Durst (Carrie Coon of the 2014 film Gone Girl) as the audience’s entry point.  Audience members are able to empathize with Nora as she desperately looks for her son only to realize that other people have suddenly disappeared too.  For fans of Lost, you will be familiar with Lindelof’s brand of desperate parent searching for their child.  However Nora Durst is certainly not overly dramatic like Harold Perrineau’s Michael Dawson constantly screaming for his son Walt.


Whether by accident or design Justin Theroux’s Kevin Garvey seems to have emerged as The Leftover’s Jack Shepherd (a character from Lindelof’s Lost) in just the first couple of episodes.  Kevin Garvey is an emotionally damaged ticking time bomb who happens to be a leader, in this case the sheriff of Mapleton, New York.  Ironically the ‘Sudden Disappearance’ did not physically remove Kevin from his family, but separated them emotionally and mentally.  Like Jack Shepherd, his mental health is constantly being questioned by those around him.  Kevin’s actions during the first two episodes have the mayor, a sheriff’s deputy, and his father concerned.  Garvey spends most of episode one with a dead dog in the boot of his police car, attacking the local cult’s (The Guilty Remnant) body guard, and shooting a pack of wild dogs with a (supposedly) imaginary person.

Characters such as Kevin Garvey have handled the ‘Sudden Disappearance’ alone, but others like Laurie (Amy Brenneman) found solace through a cult called The Guilty Remnant.  Dressed in all white, members of The Guilty Remnant have shed their old lives and taken a vow of silence; they communicate by writing notes.  Members also smoke to ‘proclaim their faith’.  Laurie spends most of the first episode attempting to recruit Megan Abbott (Liv Tyler).  The Guilty Remnant is The Leftovers’ equivalent of Doctor Who monsters such as The Silence; they stalk an individual until their target joins the cult.
Christopher Eccleston’s character Reverend Matt Jamison is in the background for much of episodes one and two.  When Matt Jamison is onscreen he is busy shouting and acting like the town’s Julian Assange, releasing information about individuals who disappeared.  I keep waiting for Jamison to utter a line blaming a blue police call box for the ‘Sudden Departure’.  Based on Matt Jamison’s brief interactions with Kevin and Jill Garvey, Jamison is well respected and has a history with the Garvey family.  This history is unearthed a bit more during the third episode (the strongest of the three episodes).  Matt Jamison takes viewers on a Don Quixoteinspired quest in episode three to save his life’s work.  By the end of the hour, the audience understands what drives Reverend Jamison and gains some insight into his past.  This episode also clarifies the character’s motivations going forward.

Sound editing can be easily overlooked but is essential in capturing the audience’s attention.  The Leftover’s heavily relies upon sound in order to establish the show’s tone and to help lull the audience into the dream-like existence the characters are living.  In many of the scenes in which characters are speaking the sound appears to be lowered.  Once the violence starts the level of noise increases, the audience is inundated with noise from different directions.  At times viewers will feel overwhelmed.  A cacophony of sounds are heard during the midst of episode one’s riot.  Episode two begins with a gun battle between the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), one of the few U.S. federal law enforcement agencies without a television series, and Wayne (The Peep Show and Law and Order UK’s Paterson Joseph) and his followers.  For a few seconds this reviewer thought they were watching the wrong program.
After watching two episodes of The Leftovers I was still undecided about the show, though my barometer was dangerously close to the negative end of the spectrum.  From a production and acting standpoint The Leftovers is a superbly crafted show.  Amy Brenneman is such a skilled actress that she is able to convey so much information through her body language.  She is clearly Charlie Chaplin’s new heir, sorry Jean Dujardin (The Artist).  Justin Theroux is doing a superb job portraying an individual who is struggling to shoulder the burden of leadership, but his sanity is in question.  However something was missing…



As someone who has experienced a sudden loss I can empathize with the characters.  However I did not feel overly fascinated by any of the characters except for Kevin Garvey for the first two episodes. Paterson Joseph and Chris Zylka’s characters (Wayne and Tom respectively) were intriguing but each time they were shown, I felt as though I was watching a different show.  The Leftovers is supposed to be examining the Sudden Disappearance’s impact on a small town, Mapleton.  However the scenes with Wayne and Tom felt like a subplot introduced too soon.  Lindelof and Perrotta needed to spend more time providing motivation for many of the characters in Mapleton.

Initially I considered writing off The Leftovers after episode two, but Lindelof’s previous efforts earned him some leeway in my book.  Episode three earned The Leftovers additional time on my television viewing list.  Once the show shifted the spotlight on Matt Jamison, Christopher Eccleston takes hold of the audience and does not let go!  Guess Reverend Jamison has a bit of the 9th Doctor built into his character’s DNA.  This reviewer is not suggesting that everyone should give The Leftovers three episodes to evaluate this show.  If you are a fan of Lindelof’s television or film productions and you are not sold at the end of episode one, I recommend that you try to hang on until episode three.  Fortunately series one of The Leftovers is ten episodes.  This reviewer certainly understands if viewers are unable to commit three hours of telly watching to determine the fate of one show.  Unfortunately this is something that Lindelof and company clearly forgot.

The Leftovers will be shown on Sky Atlantic later in the year.

Contributed by Mo Walker

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