Creators: Damon Lindelof, Tom Perrotta
Cast: Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, Amy Brenneman, Liv Tyler, Christopher Eccleston, Scott Glenn, Kevin Carroll, Ann Dowd, Jovan Adepo
Aired: June 29, 2014-June 4, 2017
Once the screen faded to black from the final shot of the final episode of The Leftovers and the credits rolled, I just sat on the couch for a little while to think about what I had just watched. You know a work is at the very least pretty good when it can just leave you sitting there for a few moments to think about your experience. Even now as I type this review, the experience I had with The Leftovers is still in my mind. I usually write down notes when I am playing a game, or watching a show or movie to review, but this is one of the times where I didn’t not out of negligence but because I was so absorbed in what I was viewing. I’ve seen a lot of TV shows, but I am certain I have never seen anything like The Leftovers. This is the best show I have ever watched.
Based off of a novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers aired on HBO from 2014 to 2017 for three seasons. The basic premise is that on October 14th, 2011, two percent of the world’s population totally disappears in a split second. They leave behind nothing and the rest of the world is left to wonder where and why they went. Those who disappeared that day are called the “Departed” and the day becomes memorialized as the “Sudden Departure”. Society as we know it experiences a drastic change from the trauma of losing so many loved ones and friends, yet leaving behind the majority of the human population. Cults form such as the Guilty Remnant: an order of people that dress in white clothes, chain-smoke, communicate only via written language, and try to remind people as much as possible about the family and friends they’ve lost. We mainly follow the characters of Kevin Garvey Jr., Nora Durst, Matt Jamison, and the Murphy family.
This is a show where plot isn’t the focus, but character is. The event itself isn’t important so much as the effect it had on our main cast. Kevin Garvey Jr. is the police chief of Mapleton when we first meet him, with his family having fallen apart because of the Sudden Departure. Nora Durst lost her husband and two children, while Matt Jamison is a reverend suffering a crisis of faith as a result of the Sudden Departure challenging everything he has believed in. The Murphy family shows up in the second season.
The lifeblood of this show is its amazing characters. They are all put through not just physical, but emotional trials in the show’s three season run. The solutions to their problems are never clear cut, but layered with questions often left unanswered. It would be easy for the Garvey family to have been happy and wholesome until the Sudden Departure happened, but the first season slowly but surely reveals this was never the case, and that the Sudden Departure was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. No single event broke these people, it was all a culmination of events and their responses to them. For the majority of the show, there is no villain or antagonist for the characters to rally against, but just people being as flawed as they are in real life.
It is not an easy show to get into. It is a slow show and the first season is the slowest of them all. It’s also the season with the smallest scope and the most dour tone with just a little humor for relief. It’s not a bad season by any means. It’s in fact a very good season, but it is the weakest one in the whole show. Of course, a very good season being the weakest one of your entire series is if anything another point in its favor. If you’re watching this show for answers as to what happened, then you’re watching it wrong. The Sudden Departure itself isn’t important, but the fallout from it is.
It’s in seasons two and three where The Leftovers reaches its full potential and becomes a masterpiece. It branches out and begins to tackle large questions along with its cast. We see what it’s like in a town in Texas where nobody departed, which has caused people to flock to it for various reasons. Then we move to Australia seven years after the Sudden Departure, where on the seventh anniversary people are wondering what it going to happen, if anything at all is going to happen, and what would it mean if something did happen. These are the kinds of ambitious ideas and tough to tackle questions that the audience has to deal with just like our characters. It also adds a variety of humor into the mix so that there is a balance of tone.
The Leftovers’ music is absolutely spotless. Need convincing? Go onto YouTube and look up the main theme, the first season’s title theme, and the second season’s title theme. It also has the best usage of “Take On Me” I have ever seen in the fourth episode of the third season.
Also spotless: the acting. My god are these performances all time great ones. The standouts among standouts are Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon. Theroux as Kevin Garvey masterfully portrays a strong man with also extreme vulnerability, struggling not just with his broken family but his unstable mind. Coon as Nora Durst is at the center of the most heartbreaking, emotionally draining moments of the entire series and every time manages to go above and beyond what is required of her. This is one of the roles that made her a star, and it is clear why. The chemistry between these two is palpable and real, and not once will you think otherwise. Liv Tyler also gives an excellent performance as Meg Abbott, a character whose arc may very well be the most disturbing and fascinating of them all. I could go on, but then we’d be here forever.
The episodes of the show were all either superb or quite good on a technical level. I can’t name one I would consider to be “bad” or even weak in comparison to its strongest episodes. Quite frankly most television episodes come off as weak compared to all episodes of The Leftovers. This show has some of the best episodes I’ve ever seen on TV. The three standouts of each season are to me: The Garveys at Their Best (S1E9), International Assassin (S2E8), and The Book of Nora (S3E8/Series finale). Most shows are lucky to have episodes half as good as these three are. The series finale is especially the best series finale I have ever seen. It answers the questions it has to, but doesn’t answer the ones best left unanswered. The finale’s final shot is also absolutely beautiful and powerful on a symbolic and emotional level. If you want specifics, then watch the show.
Damon Lindelof has as many detractors as he does defenders. I count myself in the latter category. I have not seen Lost so I cannot comment on its quality, but I am aware he was the main writer for Prometheus. However, if you want someone to blame for that film’s wasted potential: blame Ridley Scott. Scott pretty much threw out all of Lindelof’s suggestions and thus gave us the mess we know today. You can throw hate Lindelof’s way all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that Ridley Scott ruined Prometheus. I know I digressed but that had to be clarified. Quite frankly, even if Lindelof were responsible for the failures of Prometheus, after being responsible for this absolutely stunning work of art, he has more than atoned for his sins. I for one am okay with him adapting (or in his words “remixing”) Watchmen for television on HBO, in fact I am excited for it and am glad to see that he is still being given the greenlight to tackle ideas that others are afraid to.
The Leftovers is a masterpiece. It did not receive anywhere near the attention it deserved during its run, or get any Emmy nominations. But that’s fine. It doesn’t need awards to prove that its a great show, because it can let its quality speak for itself. It told a unique story it wanted to tell, it told it to a ridiculously great degree, and you can’t ask any more if it than that. Is it flawless? No, but any flaws it has are utterly miniscule and irrelevant in the long run. Watch this show and bask in its magnificence.