Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 6, 2015)
Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof returns to the small screen via a new HBO series entitled The Leftovers. In this two-disc Blu-ray set, we get all 10 of Season One’s episodes. The plot synopses come from the packaging.
The series’ overall premise: “Two percent of the world’s population has disappeared. Was it the Rapture? Aliens? Or something else? The Leftovers follows Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), police chief and father of two in Mapleton, New York three years after the mysterious event. As Garvey struggles to grieve for his losses, rebuild his life and regain a sense of normalcy, the world around him grows ever stranger.”
Pilot: “Three years after two percent of the world’s population mysteriously vanished, the residents of Mapleton weigh the pros and cons of a tribute to the departed, while Police Chief Kevin Garvey attempts to keep order in the community and at home.”
On one hand, I like the “Pilot” episode’s lack of overt exposition. It introduces us to the characters and situations in a subtle manner without an overabundance of detail.
That said, “Pilot” seems like an awful logy introduction to the series. As much as I appreciate the show’s attempts to remain mysterious, the “Pilot” feels somewhat dull, so it doesn’t make me all that interested to see where matters go. Hopefully events will perk up in future episodes – if not, this will be a long ride.
Pengion One, US Zero: “Kevin sees a therapist after he has some unsettling encounters. Meg (Liv Tyler) makes a decision about her future. Tom (Chris Zylka) and Christine (Annie Q) are left in a dicey situation. Jill (Margaret Qualley) and Aimee (Emily Meade) want to know what Nora (Carrie Coon) is doing.”
While “Zero” offers a bit more intrigue compared to the “Pilot”, that doesn’t say much, and the episode mostly remains slow-paced. So far it feels like Leftovers offers little more than mopey characters and vague plot concepts without much exploration. Once again, I have to hope matters get more interesting before too long; two episodes into the year and I’m not especially enchanted.
Two Boats and a Helicopter: “As Reverend Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) struggles with referring to the departed as ‘heroes’, he faces death threats and diminishing attendance at his sermons, and he may even lose his church.”
“Boats” differs from the first two episodes in terms of focus. Whereas the prior shows covered a mix of characters, “Boats” leans heavily on Reverend Jamison. That makes it a departure from its predecessors and also allows “Boats” to work better than the other shows. At least “Boats” depicts some narrative clarity instead of the vagueness seen to date.
BJ and the AC: “Kevin deals with a holiday display snafu, a detainee from another police station at work and surprise visitors at home. Tom and Christine meet trouble on the road and at the hospital.”
After the unusual structure of “Boats”, “AC” returns to the status quo, and the series’ ennui comes back with it. I get that Leftovers largely wants to use the Garvey family as a nutshell version of the impact “The Departure” had, but as depicted so far, the results remain uninspiring. I keep waiting for something interesting to happen but I usually come up empty.
Gladys: “A shocking hate crime tests Laurie’s (Amy Brenneman) resolve. Kevin considers a controversial – but attractive – offer from the Bureau to help rid Mapleton of its problems.”
To date, I find the members of the “Guilty Remnant” to be the most annoying characters, but even so, the brutal attack on one Remnant that launches this episode becomes harrowing. That scene becomes a rare emotional moment in a series that usually feels bland and clinical.
Does the rest of “Gladys” live up to that scene? No, but other than “Boats”, it works better than its predecessors. “Gladys” actually manages a bit of narrative thrust, so we almost sort of kind of feel like the series might eventually go somewhere.
Guest: “Nora attends a New York conference, where someone is impersonating her on the panel. She wanders the hotel as a ‘guest’, experiencing several encounters before she returns home to take up Kevin’s interesting offer.”
Ala “Boats”, “Guest” focuses solely on one perspective: Nora’s. As was the case with the earlier episode, that proves to be a good decision, as it makes the events more interesting than usual. Add to that some hints of intrigue and narrative development and “Guest” becomes arguably the strongest episode to date. A few more like this and I won’t regret my decision to watch this series.
Solace for Tired Feet: “Kevin learns his father (Scott Glenn) has escaped the psychiatric hospital. Jill’s attempt to break an endurance record nearly kills her. Tom questions his devotion to Holy Wayne (Paterson Joseph).”
Part of my problem with Leftovers stems from its vagueness, as it usually feels as though it’s all subtext without anything more explicit. That continues to be the case with “Solace”, so even though it deepens the plot – as it hints at the cause of “The Departure” – it doesn’t give us a ton of obvious substance. It comes with some interesting moments but remains frustrating.
Cairo: “Kevin’s grip on reality is slipping after he falls into a difficult situation with Patti (Ann Dowd). Meg loses her cool when she is involved in another encounter with Matt.”
Eight shows into the series, and I’m starting to wonder if the secret of what caused “The Departure” acts as a MacGuffin here. I suspect the series will have to explore this more in depth at some point, but so far, Leftovers is more about how the survivors react to those events than about the event itself.
Which is fine, though I continue to be less than enthralled with the results. “Cairo” does offer some interesting developments, mainly connected to the Guilty Remnant. We see more of their “endgame” and watch an interesting new member of that group. This isn’t one of the series’ top episodes, but it’s above average.
The Garveys at Their Best: “This moving flashback recounts times leading up to and during the Departure. Kevin pursues a pesky deer, Patti reveals a secret to Laurie, Tom makes a connection with his past and Nora goes on a job interview.”
Prior episodes offered hints of the pre-“Departure” world, but “Best” gives us a clearer view of the characters in that period. One could argue this show would’ve worked better earlier in the year, but I disagree, as it comes with greater punch since we know more about hhow the “Departure” impacted the participants. Not much I’d call revelatory occurs here, but “Best” expands the narrative in an interesting manner.
The Prodigal Son Returns: “The season finale finds Mapleton descending into chaos: Kevin seeks help in another town, Holy Wayne receives his final wish, and Tom must adjust to a new life while Nora mulls over a difficult decision.”
Season One finishes with a moderate bang. Given the general quietness of the series, “Son” doesn’t boast substantial fireworks, but it does create some decent character moments and developments. It concludes an erratic season on a reasonably positive note.