Friday, September 12, 2014

HBO Series Review: The Leftovers

Gone.  Just fucking gone.
I don't remember how I heard about this gem, or what even prompted me to actually watch it.  It's an HBO series based on the novel of the same name by Tom Perotta.  I typically don't enjoy just straight drama on television, but I have to say that this series turned out to be well worth my time.

Set in the modern day, The Leftovers follows the residents of Mapleton, a little town in New York, and how they cope with what they call "The Departure."  What is the Departure?  Well, on October 14, three years before the events of the show, 2% of the world's population--roughly 140 million people--mysteriously vanished into thin air.

There is no rhyme or reason for who vanished.  Men and women.  The young and the old.  The good, bad, and the ugly.  Relative unknowns and celebrities.  Hell, even the Pope.  The just and the corrupt, the rich and the poor.  All of them gone, just gone.  And it all happened in an instant.

Now, you might think that this is the premise for some silly sci-fi trip, but this show is anything but.  The show itself does not focus on the answer to what happened.  In fact, there will never be an answer as to what happened to the Departed, where they went, or why it even happened.  The Leftovers is concerned with the world-wide existential crisis that followed, and how the residents of one small town attempted to cope with it.

Think about that.  As if there wasn't enough unanswered questions in life, you are suddenly overburdened with the completely inexplicable and brutally sudden loss of someone you love more than anything.  After three years, there is no indication that you will ever see that person again, and you come to the painful realization that not only is that person gone, but there is nothing to mourn over.  Your closest human connection vanished into thin air, and you will never know why or to where he/she went.

The show mostly focuses on the Garvey family, headed by Mapleton Police chief Kevin Garvey (played by Justin Thoreaux).  I won't spoil anything, but suffice to say, the Garveys have their fair share of misery despite not losing any of their immediate family members in the Departure.  But it also spends time with some other residents of Mapleton, most tragically Nora Durst, a woman who lost her entire family (husband and two small children) in the Departure.

Well, if the premise didn't indicate well enough the tone of the show, I can tell you right now that The Leftovers is not for the faint of heart.  If you're the type of person that has to have a happy ending, then I wouldn't recommend this show.  There are few, if any, happy endings in the Leftovers, and the show has met some negative criticism because of this.  Truly, it is a show that is all about pain, misery, and a general feeling of "what the fuck does anything matter anymore."  Despite the endless oceans of suffering, there are still little glimmers of hope here and there.  But make no mistake, there is more pain than pleasure.

But this is one of the show's strong points, the fact that it focuses specifically on the characters and their slogging journeys through uncertainty and doubt.  The actors are superb, and fortunately they were all handed a hell of a script that cuts through the heart with biting, gritty dialogue.

My verdict?  The first season--which runs 10 episodes--is something of a masterpiece.  Although the viewer is repeatedly slugged with one depressing scenario after another, if you allow yourself to be immersed in the premise, and if you fully invest in the emotional journey of the characters, you will walk away satisfied.  I'm not one to cry, but this show brought a tear to my eye on more than one occasion.  For me, the whole plight of humanity in The Leftovers is summed up in one of the early scenes in the season finale in which Kevin Garvey reads a passage from the book of Job.

If you're like me, and you enjoy thought experiments and exploring the most tormenting existential quandaries that could easily shatter even the most resilient human mind, then you'll love this show.  If you can't handle that sort of thing, then you may want to move along.