Imagine someone you knew and cared about just disappearing.
Gone. No trace of them.
That’s the premise of HBO’s The Leftovers. It’s a show about grief and loss. The struggle of moving on.
The world of The Leftovers can’t move on from this mysterious disappearance. Most people think it’s the Rapture, even if a number of people don’t want to say it. The human mind demands a rational explanation. We’ve seen so much accomplished through scientific means that it’s just not possible for people to just disappear. Yet, these people have.
The Leftovers was created by Damon Lindelof and the original novel’s author, Tom Perrotta. People will see Lindelof’s involvement and immediately think of Lost, but this is a very different beast. The disappearance is a mystery, but that aspect is not the show’s focus. There are questions all over The Leftovers that people could obsess over, but they really shouldn’t. It’s not that kind of show.
The primary focus is on the disjointed Garvey family, who act as our introduction into the world of those left behind. As both a father and the chief of police, Kevin shows us the struggle of trying to keep things together. Laurie is our introduction to the show’s strange, chain-smoking cult. Jill shows the audience how reckless teenagers are handling life post-(probably)rapture. And Tom drives us into the mysterious world of Wayne and his followers.
Kevin’s story works the best throughout the pilot. While others have lost people that they’ll never see again without rhyme or reason, Kevin has to deal with the frustration of having lost his wife and son when both of them are still drawing breath. He tries to reach them, but can’t. Kevin doesn’t understand this new world. He wants a lost, lonely dog to be something he can help, not something he has to put down before it does harm.
The other storylines will obviously need some time to grow, as they’re far less relatable. The Remnant cult is difficult to watch. Their community dresses in all white. They don’t speak and constantly smoke as a point of principle (they don’t want to waste their breath). They keep dossiers on potential recruits and stalk them until they give in. They’re strange and off-putting; the kind of people to make you squirm in your seat if you ever saw them in real life. I think I’d scream if I saw Kathy Geiss from 30 Rock outside my window, wearing all white and smoking.
The pilot was directed by Peter Berg, who has a mixed track record with projects like The Kingdom, Hancock, Battleship, and Lone Survivor. The Leftovers had a number of elements from my favorite Berg project, Friday Night Lights. Buddy Garrity himself (Brad Leland) even shows up as Congressman Witten.
FNL was at its strongest when it focused on character, and that seem to be the same for the grief case study we have here. Of course, FNL was a lot of fun at times and The Leftovers is very, very grim. That’s a concern moving forward. Will it just be too sad to keep on watching, or will the drama be compelling enough to make this show a must watch?